In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU)

Material Types

The Mars Incubator construction relies heavily on materials produced from the Martian surface. Regolith is found in the form of Martian sand, Basalt is the bedrock found underneath, and polyethylene, whilst not naturally occurring, can be produced by combining CO2 and hydrogen.

Equipment Required

A processing plant will be required to prepare the materials for use in the construction of the Habitat. The plant consists of two material flows, one for the production of plastic, the other for the processing of the regolith and basalt.

For resource gathering and habitat assembly an excavator will be brought with different attachments including a bucket, vice, precision manipulator and a printhead.

Additional equipment that will need make the trip include molds, advanced electronics, a laser cutter, a heated press, and a kilopower installation. All the exterior panels, interior panels, support structures, and the connecting devices are made from Martian materials.

Process

The first step in production is to produce polyethylene for use in most of the pressure retaining and structural parts of the habitat. To do this, water-laden regolith or water-ice is collected and loaded into the hopper, sifted, and fed into the furnace. It is heated to remove any water, which collected and stored.

The water is then electrolyzed to isolate the H2. The O2 can be stored for crew use after production.


Conceptual Design

The H2 is combined with C02 from the atmosphere over a copper catalyst to produce CO and more water. The water is recycled, and the CO is hydrogenated over an iron-based catalyst to produce ethyne and water. Again, the water is recycled and the ethyne is polymerized to produce the polyethylene. The regolith tailings produced from this process can be stored later for backfill.

Raw polyethylene is used to make 4 items: exterior panel anchors, backplates, trim, and tensioning devices. They all use different molds but the same process of pouring polyethylene powder, heating until fused, and letting it cool.

Production of an exterior panel requires all three materials. Regolith, basalt, and polyethylene. Basalt fiber is used as a reinforcement against pressurization. To process it, it’s dumped into the collection hopper where it is pulverized into feedstock. It’s then fed into the furnace to ensure it’s free of H20 and then continues into the fiber machine. Here, the material is melted and drawn through a platinum rhodium bushing into small diameter fiber that is cooled and wound around a bobbin. These fibers are then wound around anchor points placed in the mold as well as used for feedstock for the laser print head.

Conceptual Design

The bulk of the panel material is a regolith-polyethylene mixture. Regolith dried in the furnace bypasses the Fiberizer and is fed directly into the mixing hopper with the polyethylene powder. With the trim in place, this mixture is poured into the mold, over the basalt fiber that we’ve already wound. The backplate is placed on top. The last steps require heating and compressing the materials, allowing the newly formed panel to cool, then removing it from the mold. To make different configurations, alternate molds and fiber guides will need to be used as well as cutting out holes where necessary.