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In situ utilization of indigenous resources

Part of the Springer Praxis Books book series (PRAXIS)

Abstract

In situ resource utilization (ISRU) on the Moon or Mars is an approach for converting indigenous resources into various products that are needed for a mission. By utilizing indigenous resources, the amount of material that must be brought from Earth is reduced, thus reducing IMLEO. ISRU has the greatest value when the ratio:
$$ R = \frac{{\left[ {mass of products supplied by ISRU to mission} \right]}} {{\left[ {mass of the ISRU system brought from Earth} \right]}} $$
is large. Thus, in order for ISRU to have net value, it is essential that the mass of the ISRU system (i.e., the sum of the masses of the ISRU plant, the power plant to drive it, and any feedstocks brought from Earth) must be less than the mass of products produced and used by the mission. If R ≫ 1, then in comparing the IMLEO for two similar missions—one using ISRU, and the other not using ISRU—the IMLEO using ISRU will be lower. This comparison of IMLEO with and without ISRU will provide one measure of the “value” of ISRU. However, from a broader point of view, one should compare total investments (rather than IMLEO) with and without ISRU. In this regard, the investment in ISRU includes the costs of (a) prospecting to locate and validate the accessibility of indigenous resources, (b) developing and demonstrating capabilities to extract indigenous resources, (c) developing capabilities for processing indigenous resources to convert them to needed products, and (d) any ancillary requirements specifically dictated by use of ISRU (e.g., possibly a nuclear power system). The cost saving using ISRU is the investment that is eliminated by reducing IMLEO for as many launches as the ISRU system serves. If this saving is greater than the investment required, then ISRU has net value for a mission or set of related missions. If one only compares ISRU system mass with ISRU product mass, one may in some cases conclude (incorrectly) that ISRU is beneficial, when in actuality it adds to the overall mission cost. Typically, NASA plans human missions without the use of ISRU, and then considers tacking on ISRU rather late in the campaign as an embellishment. This limits the putative benefits of ISRU because all vehicles are sized without utilizing the benefit of ISRU.

Keywords

Lunar Surface Metal Hydride Nuclear Power System Trade Study Indigenous Resource 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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© Praxis Publishing Ltd, Chichester, UK 2008

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