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As humans endeavor to expand exploration of the final frontier in t...
In-Situ resource utilization (ISRU) is a term used predominantly ...
Launching a rocket from Earth to Mars on a successful trajectory is...
The first unmanned mission is scheduled to depart in the year 2020 ...
The International Space Station is equipped with a Water Recovery S...
Water electrolysis occurs when a water molecule is split into separ...
Regolith refers to the surface layer of martian soil that is compos...
A system like the Mars Atmospheric Resource Recovery System (MARRS)...
Through the dissolution of martian regolith in sulfuric acid, metal...
Using the Mars In-Situ Water Extractor (MISWE), liquid water is pro...
The thyroid gland requires iodide in order to synthesize the hormon...
The Sample Analysis on Mars instrument (SAM) has tools that enable ...
An auger based extraction system would consist of a drill with a he...
Life Sciences in Space Research 7 (2015) 57–60
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Life Sciences in Space Research
Water extraction on Mars for an expanding human colony
M. Ralphs
, B. Franz
, T. Baker
, S. Howe
Utah State University, Logan, UT 84321, USA
University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089, USA
Idaho State University, Pocatello, ID 83201, USA
Howe Industries LLC, Idaho Falls, ID 83401, USA
a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t
Article history:
25 August 2015
in revised form 11 September
1 October 2015
colony on Mars
resource utilization
resources on Mars
In-situ water extraction is necessary for an extended human presence on Mars. This study looks at the
water requirements of an expanding human colony on Mars and the general systems needed to supply
that water from the martian atmosphere and regolith. The proposed combination of systems in order
to supply the necessary water includes a system similar to Honeybee Robotics’ Mobile In-Situ Water
Extractor (MISWE) that uses convection, a system similar to MISWE but that directs microwave energy
down a borehole, a greenhouse or hothouse type system, and a system similar to the Mars Atmospheric
Resource Recovery System (MARRS). It is demonstrated that a large water extraction system that can
take advantage of large deposits of water ice at site specific locations is necessary to keep up with the
demands of a growing colony.
© 2015 The Committee on Space Research (COSPAR). Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
1. Introduction
The ability to extract and process water through in-situ re-
utilization (ISRU) is necessary for a sustained human pres-
on Mars. This study looks at the required hardware and the
related production rates that would be needed for water produc-
for an expanding human colony on Mars. This colony would
receive new colonists from Earth every two years, when the plan-
are positioned properly in their orbit and conditions are feasi-
to send a mission to Mars (A propitious alignment of planets,
not available in 2015, it is expected that future tech-
will allow for missions to Mars to carry 6, 12, and eventu-
24 humans in each mission, or that multiple transports will be
sent in each mission. With this assumption in mind, the planned
colony expansion is shown in Table 1.
amount of water needed for extended human survival is
around 0.6 kg/hr/person which includes water for consumption,
hygiene, and everyday living in space (Bobe et al., 2007; Horneck
et al., 2003, 2006). This estimate is based on space station living
and, assuming water consumption is less in a micro-gravity en-
would increase up to 0.7 kg/hr/person to account for
living with gravity. The amount required if demands from a grow-
Corresponding author.
addresses: (M. Ralphs), (B. Franz), (T. Baker), (S. Howe).
Table 1
colony expansion, including crew size and colony population at any given
year in the first 16 years of the colony.
Year Mission # New crew Colony population
01 6 6
22 6 12
43 6 18
6 4 12 30
8 5 12 42
10 6 12 54
12 7 24 78
14 8 24 102
16 9 24 126
ing colony (regolith processing, manufacturing, perchlorate remedi-
plant growth, habitat maintenance, etc.) are added to human
needs is estimated at 1.2 kg/hr/person. Assuming a water recla-
rate of at least 90% (similar to that of the space stations
Salut, Mir, and the International Space Station, Bobe et al., 2007;
1998), the amount needed from ISRU is 0.12 kg/hr/per-
Some sources predict water reclamation rates as high as 96%
(Horneck et al., 2006), but current technology reliably allows for
numbers also take into account the requirements for
hydrogen since hydrogen will most likely come from water elec-
This is because most of the accessible hydrogen on Mars
is found in the form of H
O (Krasnopolsky and Feldman, 2001;
et al., 2002).
© 2015 The Committee on Space Research (COSPAR). Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
58 M. Ralphs et al. / Life Sciences in Space Research 7 (2015) 57–60
Some water can be extracted from the martian atmosphere, but,
in order to get enough to sustain a colony, extraction from the
martian regolith will be the primary source of water. Several meth-
of water extraction from the regolith are considered viable and
the extraction method will depend heavily on the site selected for
the colony.
2. Colony water requirements
Water is needed for many applications for an extended colony
on Mars beyond the 0.6 kg/hr/person to keep the humans alive
and healthy. These applications fall into 5 categories: regolith pro-
manufacturing, perchlorate remediation, plant growth, and
habitat maintenance.
2.1. Regolith processing
Many useful compounds exist in the martian regolith in sig-
nificant quantities
including silica, alumina, iron oxide, magnesia,
calcium oxide, and sulfates (Meyer, 1989; Stoker et al., 1993). The
metallic oxides can be extracted by dissolution in sulfuric acid. To
separate them, the solution is slowly neutralized using magnesia
to selectively precipitate relatively pure oxide powders. These pow-
can be further processed to produce metallic ores (Berggren et
al., 2009). This processing can require a significant volume of wa-
on the order of hundreds of liters, but nearly all is reclaimed
during processing. The makeup volume of water is therefore con-
2.2. Manufacturing
The regolith processing results in a number of useful materi-
including metallic iron powder, alumina, magnesia, silica, and
residual regolith. These can be used to manufacture spare parts,
structural members (Landis, 2009; Kirn et al., 2002), advanced ce-
explosives (Dick et al., 1985), and cementitious products.
Cementitious products are extremely useful for creating radiation
shielding (Kirn et al., 2002), pathways, structures, and protective
barriers, but they require a substantial amount of water. Concrete
production requires approximately 0.4 kg
et al., 2009). Concrete production will most likely use the most
water out of all the manufactured materials because that water
isn’t easily reclaimed. And, although there may be more need for
manufactured products towards the early stages of the colony, the
amount required will be normalized to the amount of people in
the colony. The estimated water required for manufacturing pro-
is 0.04 kg/hr/person.
2.3. Perchlorate remediation
Several perchlorate compounds are found on Mars that can be
detrimental to human health. The perchlorate molecules are sim-
to iodine and block its receptors in the human body, caus-
hormone deficiencies (Wolff, 1998; Mukhi and Patiño, 2007;
et al., 2013). Therefore, it is imperative that the perchlorates
are removed from all the materials that will be used by humans.
This process is estimated to require 0.1 kg/hr/person of water, how-
almost all of this water can be recycled and reused so the
amount that ISRU will need to make up is considered negligible.
2.4. Plant growth
Plants are the most likely long term solution for food in a
colony on Mars (Schulze-Makuch and Davies, 2010). And whether
they are grown in hydroponic or potted systems, the plants will
consume a certain amount of water. It is estimated that plants will
require approximately 0.003 kg/hr/person of water that cannot be
easily reclaimed by the environmental control and life support sys-
(ECLSS). This must, therefore, be produced by ISRU.
2.5. Habitat maintenance
Water needed for habitat maintenance will vary depending on
the design of the habitat. A few uses of water that fall under
this category are increasing grounding pin efficiency, resupply of
fuel cells (Baird et al., 2003), and resupply of coolant in power
systems. The estimated requirement for habitat maintenance is ap-
0.01 kg/hr/person of water.
3. Water extraction from the atmosphere
The martian atmosphere is made up of 0.03% H
O (Muscatello
and Santiago-Maldonado, 2012). Using an atmospheric processing
system, similar to the Mars Atmospheric Resource Recovery System
(MARRS) (England, 2001), it is plausible to extract 0.02 kg/hr/per-
of water from the atmosphere. This amount relates to the wa-
that would be extracted from the atmosphere during the pro-
of extracting the required oxygen for breathable air (Wieland,
1998). This also neglects oxygen regeneration in the habitat which
would decrease the amount of water produced with this system.
This system will grow as needed to support the oxygen needs
of the growing colony. However, since this system will vary de-
on the amount of oxygen regeneration in the habitat and
0.02 kg/hr/person is the maximum that would be produced, the
actual amount of water that would be produced is small and non-
Thus the atmosphere is not a good source for water to
sustain an expanding colony.
4. Water extraction from regolith
The water available for extraction from the martian regolith is
site dependent. At higher and lower latitudes, the majority of the
water is found in icy soils and permafrost. Around the equator,
most of the water content is found in hydrated minerals. There
is some speculation that more water exists deeper in the regolith
that may be available if a method is developed to drill down to
it (Clifford, 1993), but at present this solution is not proven. But
even near the equator where the water content is low, the re-
is very hard and difficult to remove in large quantities. It
is estimated that a 2 ton excavator would be required to scoop up
regolith containing more than 5% water content in a 4.5 cm wide
scoop (Zacny et al., 2012a). However, advanced scooping systems
being developed for martian and lunar surfaces that are capa-
of excavating a significant amount of regolith (Mueller et al.,
2013). The following excavation methods were chosen with the
hard martian regolith in mind and are considered some of the
most probable options for water extraction from the regolith.
4.1. Hydrated minerals
In the equatorial regions of Mars, the regolith is predicted to
contain between 2% and 13% water content, most likely in the form
of hydrated minerals (Muscatello and Santiago-Maldonado, 2012;
et al., 1993; Feldman et al., 2004). More energy is required
to release the water from hydrated minerals than to sublimate the
water from icy soils and permafrost. Although a few of the hy-
minerals found in the martian regolith have dehydration
temperatures that are relatively low, as shown in Table 2, tem-
in excess of 600
Care typically required to remove all
the water from the hydrated minerals (Sanders and Mueller, 2015).
However, the Sample Analysis on Mars (SAM) instrument on the
Curiosity rover showed that a heating above 450
Ccauses the
M. Ralphs et al. / Life Sciences in Space Research 7 (2015) 57–60 59
Table 2
minerals that have a confirmed presence at several locations on the mar-
surface. Also included is their chemical formula and dehydration temperatures.
Mineral Chemical formula Dehydration temp (K)
Kieserite MgSO
Epsomite MgSO
Gypsum CaSO
Melanterite FeSO
O 363
Analcime NaAlSi
O 773
Mirabilite Na
Perchlorate M(ClO
Opal-A SiO
O 973
carbonates and perchlorates in the regolith to break down and pro-
HCl and H
S, which may not be desirable (Leshin et al., 2013).
Regardless, there are two methods of water extraction that look
most promising for removing water from hydrated minerals, both
use an auger based system, but one uses convective heat trans-
and one uses microwave. An auger based system is considered
ideal because of its ability to penetrate the hard martian regolith
and actually move the soil (Zacny et al., 2008, 2012a, 2012b).
system that uses convective heat transfer would be a sys-
similar in design to Honeybee Robotics Mobile In Situ Water
Extractor (MISWE) (Zacny et al., 2012a). This system uses an auger
to dig into the soil, lifts the soil caked on the auger back into the
rover, applies convective heat to evaporate the water into vapor,
and collects the water vapor in a cold trap to condense. This sys-
is predicted to have a water extraction rate of 0.2 kg/hr and
would require around 350 Watts of thermal power for evaporating
the water and additional electrical power for operating the auger
and rover, for a total of around 1kW
system that uses microwave energy is similar to the con-
system explained above, however, the auger would be used
to dig a bore hole into which microwave energy could be emit-
with the intent of energizing a greater amount of water for
each hole drilled. The vaporized water could then be collected and
condensed in the rover. Microwave heating has the potential to
penetrate further into the regolith and heat the water molecules at
a faster rate than convection (Ethridge and Kaukler, 2012, 2011). It
is estimated that a borehole and microwave system would be able
to produce slightly more than a MISWE while using comparable
amounts of power: 0.3 kg/hr with 1kW
4.2. Icy soils
In icy soils, which are as low as 40
N latitude in some locations
(Byrne et al., 2009), the two auger based systems proposed would
most likely still be viable, but other methods might also be used
that have the potential of a higher extraction rate. These options
are in the form a greenhouse (Mungas et al., 2006)or a hothouse.
The difference between the two is the heat source: one is the Sun,
the other is from an external source. The concept is to heat up
the inside of a tent or dome on the surface of Mars over an area
with icy soil or permafrost. The water would evaporate out and
condense on the walls of the structure to be collected.
the energy from the Sun would be very beneficial, how-
there are some complications with that method, which in-
but are not limited to: the transparent material to be used
on the structure, keeping the dust off the surface of the structure,
and solar interference from frequent dust storms. Using an exter-
heat source, such as from a surface reactor or a battery, would
provide its own limitations. A few of the limitations may include
mobility and distance from the main base, which may limit the
accessible soils that can be tapped for water extraction. But if the
challenges for either system can be overcome, then a system such
as this would be able to provide a much greater quantity of water
Table 3
configuration for water extraction on Mars for an expanding human
colony. “Col.” = total number of humans in the colony, “Goal” = water produc-
goal in kg/hr, “MISWE” = number of MISWE’s, “B.M.” = number of bore-
systems, “H.H.” = number of hothouse or greenhouse systems,
“Prod.” = water produced by the proposed configuration in kg/hr. “Prod.” includes
0.02 kg/hr/person from a system similar to the MARRS system. It is assumed that
MISWE and B.M. are extracting water from hydrated minerals with between 5 and
7% water content and the H.H. is extracting water from icy soils and permafrost.
Col. Goal MISWE B.M. H.H. Prod.
60.74 2 2 0 1.21
12 1
.48 2 2 0 1.33
18 2
.21 2 2 1 3.44
30 3
.69 2 2 1 3.68
42 5
.17 4 4 1 5
54 6
.64 4 4 2 7.24
78 9
.59 4 4 3 9.7
102 12
.55 6 6 4 13.26
126 15
.56 6 5 15.71
150 15
.56 6 5 15.71
Fig. 1. Water required for the expanding colony as well as the amount produced by
the proposed configuration.
for the colony. A larger, high production water extraction system is
crucial for an expanding human colony on Mars.
5. Growth with the colony
In order for the water extraction to grow with the colony, the
proposed configuration of water extraction methods is shown in
Table 3. This configuration assumes that methods are available to
store the excess water produced for several years as a reserve.
These numbers correspond to the total colony needs, including
human consumption and hygiene, habitat requirements, manufac-
processes, and plant growth. The ability of this system to
keep up with an expanding colony on Mars over time can be visu-
by Fig. 1. If a large scale water production system, like the
hothouse, is not available, it would require 65 MISWE’s to accom-
a colony of 126 humans.
6. Conclusions
With an expanding human colony on Mars, the primary source
of water is going to come from the regolith. Therefore, a system
will need to be developed that can take advantage of larger water
sources (such as water ice) near the site selected for the colony.
Thanks to the Universities Space Research Association and the
for Space Nuclear Research for funding this research.
60 M. Ralphs et al. / Life Sciences in Space Research 7 (2015) 57–60
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A system like the Mars Atmospheric Resource Recovery System (MARRS) works by using a compression process that utilizes heat to liquefy and subsequently separate atmospheric components in order to produce water, nitrogen, argon, fuel component carbon monoxide, electrical power, and most importantly, oxygen. There are four major steps involved in this process: 1. Compression of the atmosphere 2. Condensation of carbon dioxide 3. Separation of carbon dioxide from the other gases 4. Concentration of product gases The products made by MARRS would serve to sustain the Mars colonists and create a foundation for further development. Here is a link for more information about MARRS from NASA’s technical reports server: [NASA's MARRS technical reports]( In-Situ resource utilization (ISRU) is a term used predominantly in reference to extraterrestrial exploration. It describes the process by which resources can be harnessed on-site. ISRU significantly reduces the costs of launches and is practical in the sense that elements and materials can be reused. An auger based extraction system would consist of a drill with a helical shape encircling the drill rod. This structure would be efficient when excavating martian regolith because it allows for an easier process of loosening and digging into the soil. The thyroid gland requires iodide in order to synthesize the hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) which play an important role in cellular respiration and growth and maturation of body tissue (especially neural tissue). Perchlorate inhibits iodide which consequently prevents the secretion of necessary hormones for growth and development. Below is a visualization of this: ![alt text]( Through the dissolution of martian regolith in sulfuric acid, metal oxides can be selectively extracted, then precipitated and finally reduced into metallic ores. These metal ores can then be used in applications related to manufacturing, repair, construction, and other chemical processes. Water electrolysis occurs when a water molecule is split into separate hydrogen and oxygen molecules in a decomposition reaction. \[ H_2 O_{(l)} → 2H_{2 (g)} + O_{2 (g)} \] This reaction is important for a potential colony on Mars because it will create sources of hydrogen and oxygen; hydrogen is a key component of hydrocarbons (simplest organic compounds) that can be used in the process of chemical synthesis and smelting when developing the colony, and oxygen can be used for breathing. Launching a rocket from Earth to Mars on a successful trajectory is not as simple as launching something from point A to point B. Rather, in addition to distance, it is important to consider the rate of both planets' orbits around the sun, rates of rotation, spacecraft velocity (and its' changes as is travels) gravitational fields of each planet, and of course time in relation to all of these factors. Correct alignment implies that the rocket will leave Earth at transfer orbit perihelion (point of orbit that is closest to the sun) and arrive into Mars’ orbit at transfer orbit aphelion (point of orbit farthest from the sun). This phenomenon is known as a Hohmann Transfer Orbit. ![alt text]( The International Space Station is equipped with a Water Recovery System, a liquid recycling system that cleans almost all the “water” (more that 93% of greywater, urine, sweat) produced by crew members so that it can be reused. Here is an interesting video where [Commander Chris Hadfield “lifts the lid” on the Water Recovery System.]( The first unmanned mission is scheduled to depart in the year 2020 with a rover that will be designed to address key questions concerning the prospective plans for life on Mars. The 2020 Mars rover will be engineered by NASA to conduct research that will determine habitability, reveal more information about the red planet’s environmental conditions, and search for any remnants of Martian life. The rover will be equipped with seven sophisticated instruments that will facilitate these plans. The design of the rover is as follows: ![mars rover]( "mars rover") In 2026, crews will depart for their one-way journey to Mars. After that, there will be regular intervals of crews departing every 24-26 months. You can read more about the plans for the 2020 mission to mars here: [2020 Mars mission]( /) The Sample Analysis on Mars instrument (SAM) has tools that enable it to identify and analyze chemical compounds and isotopes on Mars. These tools include a gas chromatograph, a mass spectrometer and a tunable laser spectrometer. ![SAM]( "SAM") Using the Mars In-Situ Water Extractor (MISWE), liquid water is produced by first collecting the icy soil from the drill, then releasing the water vapor by heating the soil. Finally the water vapor would undergo condensation inside a canister for collection. The following is an image of what a MISWE rover would look like: ![alt text]( You can learn more about the MISWE here: [MARS In-Situ Water Extractor (MISWE)]( Regolith refers to the surface layer of martian soil that is composed of different materials such as dust, broken rock, and minerals. ![alt text]( The chart below depicts the chemical composition of Martian regolith: ![alt text]( [A simple and interesting explanation about how we will extract water from Mars' soil]( by Stephen Petranek, award-winning journalist and author book is "How We'll Live on Mars". As humans endeavor to expand exploration of the final frontier in the coming years, landing humans on Mars is a major goal. Enabling human life on Mars is a formidable task, and one of the largest obstacles to be faced will be water supply. Water is essential to life; without it the prospective humans colonizing Mars would not be able to survive, much less be able to develop the Mars colony with intricate systems concerning sustainable plant growth, processing systems, and other research projects. Methods of water extraction on Mars provide a tentative solution to the water problem. A dearth of water on Mars limits human exploration of outer space, and if scientists are able figure out the most efficient ways of creating water supply on a different planet, a whole new realm of possibilities will arise.