RedWater: Water Mining System for Mars

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Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics


Water ice in the form of debris covered glaciers or ice sheets that could be up to hundreds of meters thick has been discovered and mapped in the mid latitude of Mars. This presents a unique opportunity for in situ resource utilization (ISRU) of water, where the location could be favorable for a future human base. Under NASA funding, Honeybee Robotics developed and demonstrated water extraction from subsurface ice with a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 5 RedWater system in a Mars-simulated environment that utilizes 2 proven terrestrial technologies: coiled tubing (CT) and the Rodriguez well (a.k.a. RodWell). CT is a continuous length of tube (metal or composite) that is unspooled from the surface and can be used to advance a bottom hole assembly through the overburden layer and into the underlying ice. The RodWell is a method of melting a well in subsurface ice and pumping the liquid water to the surface, which has been demonstrated and used to support polar operations in both Greenland and Antarctica. The aim of this article is to report the results of end-to-end testing of the TRL-5 RedWater system in -60°C ice and at Mars ambient pressure (and compare the results obtained in an Earth ambient environment). The performance of the system was evaluated in terms of drilling with pneumatic cuttings clearing, melting a well, and extracting the water from the well to a tank at the surface. After performance evaluation, the validated figures of merit may serve as input to higher level efforts, such as the design and development of integrated, water-rich habitat system architectures that rely on ISRU-derived water.

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New Space