In-Situ Resource Utilization: Technical Aspects

In-Situ Resource Utilization: Technical Aspects

Claas Tido Olthoff (Technical University of Munich, Germany) and Philipp Reiss (Technical University of Munich, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7256-5.ch012


Human spaceflight is an expensive endeavor. Every kilogram that needs to be transported to low Earth orbit or beyond costs tens of thousands of dollars, with the cost increasing exponentially the farther humanity extends its reach into the solar system and beyond. It is therefore prudent, if not necessary, to consider the use of resources that are available at the destination of a given exploration mission. This concept is called in-situ resource utilization (ISRU). The processes that are required to extract useful materials from the local environment can not only be used to support a human crew, but also to obtain resources that are of value on Earth and can thus be returned there for commercial gain. This chapter provides background information on ISRU in general and discusses the most important technologies and processes that are currently employed or under development.
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Definition Of Isru

The term ISRU covers different sub-technologies, among them In-Situ Consumable Production (ISCP), In-Situ Propellant Production (ISPP), and In-Situ Fabrication and Repair (ISFR). ISCP includes the extraction of oxygen for life support systems. ISPP describes the production of rocket fuel by using extracted hydrogen, methane or oxygen. ISFR covers technologies that produce tools, construction material or spare parts.

Potential resources vary between the different locations. The most abundant resource on planetary bodies is the soil and rock material that covers the bedrock, the so-called regolith. Either the regolith itself can be considered as a resource, or the elements that are bound to or implanted in the regolith. On larger planetary bodies such as Mars, the atmosphere can be used as a resource. Other secondary resources include sunlight for power generation, or temperature and pressure gradients to drive machines or generators.

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