Author Topic: Martian ice excavation and processing: autonomous v manual  (Read 17110 times)

Offline Slarty1080

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This topic has been mentioned tangentially in numerous threads so I thought it was time it had a thread of its own. For the first missions both approaches have advantages and disadvantages and I want to identify what they are, how to overcome them and which approach is most likely to succeed. The two approaches are:

Autonomous - Sending autonomous equipment to excavate ice and process it into propellant before the first crew arrives. And Ironman - Sending the first crew with ice excavation and processing equipment to make propellant after they arrive.

Autonomous
Advantages: the crew will know that a fully tanked ship awaits them on Mars before they leave.
Disadvantages: It will be necessary to find, extract, purify and process hundreds of tons of ice from ill defined sub surface deposits. And it will also be necessary to deploy a vast solar power plant over an uneven surface (or use politically sensitive and technically unready nuclear power). All of this needs to happen autonomously without immediate human involvement.

Ironman
Advantages: the autonomous stage is avoided saving a lot of time and complexity. Human ingenuity and immediacy of presence should make the process much easier.
Disadvantages: If the process cannot be completed for whatever reason, the crew will be stranded for at least one more synod and possibly more with greatly increased exposure to radiation, low gravity and other mission risks.
My optimistic hope is that it will become cool to really think about things... rather than just doing reactive bullsh*t based on no knowledge (Brian Cox)

Offline Joseph Peterson

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Good thread topic.  I can not wait to see how this evolves.

As of now my personal opinion is that we want to ensure all humans who depart for Mars have the option to return.  Ensuring return based on our current limited knowledge requires a minimum of six Starships sent so a single Starship can return, hopefully carrying everyone who departed.  Six in for one out is most definitely not sustainable so my opinion is we should aspire for far better.

The number of Starships that needs to be sent per Starships returning drops dramatically if we land at a good site with plenty of Martian water that can be our permanent base on Mars for years, and hopefully decades, to come.  My reasoning is that, based on what we know, durable goods like solar panels and Sabatier reactors can last at least 10 synods when properly maintained and supplied with Martian resources.  If we don't need to waste inbound mass on things like imported hydrogen we can afford to import additional capital goods that can help support the goal of creating exponential growth.

In my opinion the goal is to reach the point that every Starship sent to Mars can support one Starship returned with margin to spare.  The margin to spare is the basis for a Martian civilization that will expand exponentially over time.  The way to reach this goal is to locate a site for a settlement with ample water reserves, learn how to exploit Martian water with a fraction of our imported mass, and apply the apply the remaining mass budget toward developing the Martian economy.

With all that said I'd like to add a third option to the original post.  What I believe we really need is "Aquaman," the humans arriving know for a fact there is enough extractable water.  The Aquaman concept boils down to robots proving there is an ample water/ice supply and collecting enough dirty ice so that all waste heat can be devoted to melting/purifying(via distillation) said ice so that propellant plants can produce more than sufficient propellant for all humans arriving can return without any mass being wasted sending unnecessary radiator farms to Mars.

Offline steveleach

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I used to be a firm fan of the autonomous option, but then changed my mind and now I think I understand why SpaceX seem to be planning on going down the ironman route.

It seems I can't quote from a locked thread, but this is what I posted last year...

Quote
I really wanted this to be viable, but walking it through I realised it rests on all these assumptions....

1. Crew landed safely on Mars
2. There was then a disaster, but not immediately fatal
3. The crew can survive long enough to enact the return plan
4. The crew can't survive long enough to remain on Mars until resupply
5. The crew can survive in the return vehicle for the full transit duration
6. It is not after the end of the return window
7. Planned ISRU propellant not available, or insufficient
8. Propellant production from H2 + H2O works (or fuel from Earth) is available
9. There is sufficient delta-v for a non-optimal return trajectory
10. Fuel transfer to the return vehicle works
11. Mars ascent and earth return injection works
12. Earth EDL from Mars transit velocity works

And you still have the crew launching towards Mars before a single vehicle has ever returned from Mars. This means that they must have accepted the risk that they might not be able to return if they wanted/needed to.

I suspect that the time & effort might be better spent on #4, increasing the chance that the crew can survive until resupply in the event of a disaster.

Offline steveleach

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With all that said I'd like to add a third option to the original post.  What I believe we really need is "Aquaman," the humans arriving know for a fact there is enough extractable water.  The Aquaman concept boils down to robots proving there is an ample water/ice supply and collecting enough dirty ice so that all waste heat can be devoted to melting/purifying(via distillation) said ice so that propellant plants can produce more than sufficient propellant for all humans arriving can return without any mass being wasted sending unnecessary radiator farms to Mars.
I believe this is basically what SpaceX are planning, and is just a sensible element of the ironman plan.

Slide 31 of their 2017 IAC presentation says that the first (robotic) mission will "confirm water resources".

https://www.spacex.com/media/making_life_multiplanetary-2017.pdf

There's a more recent presentation that says basically the same thing but I can't find it now.

Offline Slarty1080

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With all that said I'd like to add a third option to the original post.  What I believe we really need is "Aquaman," the humans arriving know for a fact there is enough extractable water.  The Aquaman concept boils down to robots proving there is an ample water/ice supply and collecting enough dirty ice so that all waste heat can be devoted to melting/purifying(via distillation) said ice so that propellant plants can produce more than sufficient propellant for all humans arriving can return without any mass being wasted sending unnecessary radiator farms to Mars.
I believe this is basically what SpaceX are planning, and is just a sensible element of the ironman plan.

Slide 31 of their 2017 IAC presentation says that the first (robotic) mission will "confirm water resources".

https://www.spacex.com/media/making_life_multiplanetary-2017.pdf

There's a more recent presentation that says basically the same thing but I can't find it now.
I agree. The secret is sending the right mix of equipment and retiring the right risks with the autonomous mission.

1) Send 1000kg of water and process that into Methalox in the tanks – prove that everything about that part of the system works on Mars and generates an adequate yield of Methalox.

2) Send one or more robotic drill rigs to determine the depth of over burden and the extent, depth, thickness and purity of the ice formations in the immediate locality.

3) Send several experiments to investigate different methods of extracting water from the surface. For example surface excavation with ice collection and recovery, a “greenhouse” tent and adsorption bed above a drill hole. Just pick the three best experimental options available and try them out.

4) Send some deployable solar panel rolls. Send enough to get redundancy incase of problems.

If this first robot mission is a success it should demonstrate all of the key technologies required and retire enough risk to allow an ironman-light mission which would just be ironman but with much less risk. Any serious failure in the robot mission would then require reassessment and repeat in the light of experience gained. 
My optimistic hope is that it will become cool to really think about things... rather than just doing reactive bullsh*t based on no knowledge (Brian Cox)

Offline Joseph Peterson

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With all that said I'd like to add a third option to the original post.  What I believe we really need is "Aquaman," the humans arriving know for a fact there is enough extractable water.  The Aquaman concept boils down to robots proving there is an ample water/ice supply and collecting enough dirty ice so that all waste heat can be devoted to melting/purifying(via distillation) said ice so that propellant plants can produce more than sufficient propellant for all humans arriving can return without any mass being wasted sending unnecessary radiator farms to Mars.
I believe this is basically what SpaceX are planning, and is just a sensible element of the ironman plan.

Slide 31 of their 2017 IAC presentation says that the first (robotic) mission will "confirm water resources".

https://www.spacex.com/media/making_life_multiplanetary-2017.pdf

There's a more recent presentation that says basically the same thing but I can't find it now.

No worries.  I've already gotten the fundamental message.  Elon is looking for sites with the resources, most importantly extractable water, necessary to support settlements that will last at least decades.  Once sufficient water resources are located no less that 10 tonnes of cargo per settler will be sent so the first off-world city can be established.

Offline Joseph Peterson

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With all that said I'd like to add a third option to the original post.  What I believe we really need is "Aquaman," the humans arriving know for a fact there is enough extractable water.  The Aquaman concept boils down to robots proving there is an ample water/ice supply and collecting enough dirty ice so that all waste heat can be devoted to melting/purifying(via distillation) said ice so that propellant plants can produce more than sufficient propellant for all humans arriving can return without any mass being wasted sending unnecessary radiator farms to Mars.
I believe this is basically what SpaceX are planning, and is just a sensible element of the ironman plan.

Slide 31 of their 2017 IAC presentation says that the first (robotic) mission will "confirm water resources".

https://www.spacex.com/media/making_life_multiplanetary-2017.pdf

There's a more recent presentation that says basically the same thing but I can't find it now.
I agree. The secret is sending the right mix of equipment and retiring the right risks with the autonomous mission.

1) Send 1000kg of water and process that into Methalox in the tanks – prove that everything about that part of the system works on Mars and generates an adequate yield of Methalox.

2) Send one or more robotic drill rigs to determine the depth of over burden and the extent, depth, thickness and purity of the ice formations in the immediate locality.

3) Send several experiments to investigate different methods of extracting water from the surface. For example surface excavation with ice collection and recovery, a “greenhouse” tent and adsorption bed above a drill hole. Just pick the three best experimental options available and try them out.

4) Send some deployable solar panel rolls. Send enough to get redundancy incase of problems.

If this first robot mission is a success it should demonstrate all of the key technologies required and retire enough risk to allow an ironman-light mission which would just be ironman but with much less risk. Any serious failure in the robot mission would then require reassessment and repeat in the light of experience gained.

1)  There is no known reason to suspect the technology won't work.  I can't argue against proving the concept as long as low interest rates mean we can do the tests at what will end up being very low costs but I do not expect the tests to turn up anything that hasn't already been predicted.  Should push come to shove I'd be willing to bet my own life going to Mars without having autonomously testing this step.

2)  My opinion is this must be done and repeated until we find extractable water and extraction technology beforeI'd put my life on the line.

3) If we've already demonstrated one viable water extraction technology my opinion is I am confident I won't die of thirst while testing alternative extraction technology.

4)  I've already helped out a buddy deploying solar panels here on Earth for a few sawbucks.  As long as enough panels reach Mars I am confident human labor can ensure the panels will be deployed.  Don't ask me to trust robots to do so though.

Edit: Spelling
« Last Edit: 06/21/2021 11:51 am by Joseph Peterson »

Offline steveleach

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1)  There is no known reason to suspect the technology won't work.  I can't argue against proving the concept as long as low interest rates mean we can do the tests at what will end up being very low costs but I do not expect the tests to turn up anything that hasn't already been predicted.  Should push come to shove I'd be willing to bet my own life going to Mars without having autonomously testing this step.

2)  My opinion is this must be done and repeated until we find extractable water and extraction technology beforeI'd put my life on the line.

3) If we've already demonstrated one viable water extraction technology my opinion is I am confident I won't die of thirst while testing alternative extraction technology.

4)  I've already helped out a buddy deploying solar panels here on Earth for a few sawbucks.  As long as enough panels reach Mars I am confident human labor can ensure the panels will be deployed.  Don't ask me to trust robots to do so though.

Edit: Spelling
If they decide to use 50% of the crew Starship's mass budget for water, and assuming initial Starships have a crew of 12 (3 shifts of 4), then they'd have 3L per day for 1500 days (2 synods). And lots of radiation shielding.

If they can extract water locally then great.

If not then keep sending cargo Starships with more equipment, more supplies and more water until the problem is solved. If it's just not going to work out then send the hydrogen to make enough propellant to bring everyone home.

Offline steveleach

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1)  There is no known reason to suspect the technology won't work.  I can't argue against proving the concept as long as low interest rates mean we can do the tests at what will end up being very low costs but I do not expect the tests to turn up anything that hasn't already been predicted.  Should push come to shove I'd be willing to bet my own life going to Mars without having autonomously testing this step.

2)  My opinion is this must be done and repeated until we find extractable water and extraction technology beforeI'd put my life on the line.

3) If we've already demonstrated one viable water extraction technology my opinion is I am confident I won't die of thirst while testing alternative extraction technology.

4)  I've already helped out a buddy deploying solar panels here on Earth for a few sawbucks.  As long as enough panels reach Mars I am confident human labor can ensure the panels will be deployed.  Don't ask me to trust robots to do so though.

Edit: Spelling
If they decide to use 50% of the crew Starship's mass budget for water, and assuming initial Starships have a crew of 12 (3 shifts of 4), then they'd have 3L per day for 1500 days (2 synods). And lots of radiation shielding.

If they can extract water locally then great.

If not then keep sending cargo Starships with more equipment, more supplies and more water until the problem is solved. If it's just not going to work out then send the hydrogen to make enough propellant to bring everyone home.
I should also point out that this line of reasoning is based on a couple of major assumptions...

1. Fully-robotic ISRU propellant production is really hard
2. The crew are going as settlers, not an expedition

I believe both of those are supported by what we've seen from Elon and SpaceX, but if they aren't true then the trade-offs are very different and the approach will be as well.




Offline TrevorMonty

The issue with developing Mars mining technology is travel delays. Thats about year after something is built before it is tested on Mars. Another year to fix and have v2 ready to fly. Miss launch window and its another 2yrs.  With Moon technology its possible to do two or more versions a year.

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Offline DistantTemple

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The issue with developing Mars mining technology is travel delays. Thats about year after something is built before it is tested on Mars. Another year to fix and have v2 ready to fly. Miss launch window and its another 2yrs.  With Moon technology its possible to do two or more versions a year.

Sent from my SM-G570Y using Tapatalk
With the Starship, it appears possible to send more redundant equipment, and even equipment for redundant options. Hopefully all of it will have a near-term use, so will not be wasted.... but for most important objectives there will be more than one path to success, and more than a specimen item of each key piece of equipment.. In the past tight mass budgets have not provided this kind of safety net.
Dual ways to remove overburden, multiple ways to mine ice, multiple options for transporting it, additional vehicles that can be used if the best one goes down, and even sufficient plant, that a significant loss doesn't doom the mission.
So if the first plan doesn't work, switch to plan B, instead of waiting two years for updated equipment!
« Last Edit: 06/21/2021 10:09 pm by DistantTemple »
We can always grow new new dendrites. Reach out and make connections and your world will burst with new insights. Then repose in consciousness.

Offline guckyfan

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With the Starship, it appears possible to send more redundant equipment, and even equipment for redundant options. Hopefully all of it will have a near-term use, so will not be wasted.... but for most important objectives there will be more than one path to success, and more than a specimen item of each key piece of equipment.. In the past tight mass budgets have not provided this kind of safety net.
Dual ways to remove overburden, multiple ways to mine ice, multiple options for transporting it, additional vehicles that can be used if the best one goes down, and even sufficient plant, that a significant loss doesn't doom the mission.
So if the first plan doesn't work, switch to plan B, instead of waiting two years for updated equipment!

I was thinking of sending equipment for extracting oxygen from CO2, the MOXIE process. Worst case they can not get enough water, they can still produce the oxygen for the return flight, need to find a solution for methane only.

Offline steveleach

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The issue with developing Mars mining technology is travel delays. Thats about year after something is built before it is tested on Mars. Another year to fix and have v2 ready to fly. Miss launch window and its another 2yrs.  With Moon technology its possible to do two or more versions a year.
Very valid point, which is why I think we'll see a lot of general-purpose equipment rather than very specialised tools. Send a dozen general-purpose bits of kit, each of which could do the job (or part of it) and see which one(s) do (or do it it best).

Then while learning with the kit delivered in missions 1 & 2, start selecting kit to send in mission 3.

And all more reasons why I believe they'll get boots on the ground as soon as possible, rather than rely on automation. Humans can knock in a nail with a screwdriver if they need to, even if they are wishing they had a hammer.

Offline Vultur

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Given things like InSight's mole issues, I think autonomous would be difficult enough to be utterly impractical, and the "ironman" approach doesn't really raise the risk that much with Starship's payload capacity.

Taking a huge quantity of extra life support consumables is pretty easy for Starship, so staying on Mars for an extra synod or two is probably not a huge risk. The primary risks will probably be landing and especially Mars launch and Earth EDL (especially if some damage/wear occurred on Mars).

Mars surface radiation is not high enough to present an immediate threat (cancer risks maybe, but that's not relevant on the mission timeline) and I really doubt that Mars gravity will be all that problematic (it is high enough to allow walking - so stresses will not really be 38% of Earth, but much closer, I would think).

I used to be a firm fan of the autonomous option, but then changed my mind and now I think I understand why SpaceX seem to be planning on going down the ironman route.

It seems I can't quote from a locked thread, but this is what I posted last year...

Quote
I really wanted this to be viable, but walking it through I realised it rests on all these assumptions....

1. Crew landed safely on Mars
2. There was then a disaster, but not immediately fatal
3. The crew can survive long enough to enact the return plan
4. The crew can't survive long enough to remain on Mars until resupply
5. The crew can survive in the return vehicle for the full transit duration
6. It is not after the end of the return window

Yes, exactly.

Orbital mechanics/synods means that you can't return to Earth quickly. I am skeptical that failure scenarios where it is possible to survive long enough to get back to Earth, but not survive long enough to wait for resupply, are plausible enough to plan for.

Offline Slarty1080

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Given things like InSight's mole issues, I think autonomous would be difficult enough to be utterly impractical, and the "ironman" approach doesn't really raise the risk that much with Starship's payload capacity.

Taking a huge quantity of extra life support consumables is pretty easy for Starship, so staying on Mars for an extra synod or two is probably not a huge risk. The primary risks will probably be landing and especially Mars launch and Earth EDL (especially if some damage/wear occurred on Mars).

Mars surface radiation is not high enough to present an immediate threat (cancer risks maybe, but that's not relevant on the mission timeline) and I really doubt that Mars gravity will be all that problematic (it is high enough to allow walking - so stresses will not really be 38% of Earth, but much closer, I would think).

I used to be a firm fan of the autonomous option, but then changed my mind and now I think I understand why SpaceX seem to be planning on going down the ironman route.

It seems I can't quote from a locked thread, but this is what I posted last year...

Quote
I really wanted this to be viable, but walking it through I realised it rests on all these assumptions....

1. Crew landed safely on Mars
2. There was then a disaster, but not immediately fatal
3. The crew can survive long enough to enact the return plan
4. The crew can't survive long enough to remain on Mars until resupply
5. The crew can survive in the return vehicle for the full transit duration
6. It is not after the end of the return window

Yes, exactly.

Orbital mechanics/synods means that you can't return to Earth quickly. I am skeptical that failure scenarios where it is possible to survive long enough to get back to Earth, but not survive long enough to wait for resupply, are plausible enough to plan for.
Taking a huge quantity of extra life support consumables is pretty easy for Starship but what nutritional condition will that food will be in when needed?

Mars surface radiation is not high enough to present an immediate threat (cancer risks maybe, but that's not relevant on the mission timeline): well I'm glad I'm not in that crew! It might not present an immediate threat but...

and I really doubt that Mars gravity will be all that problematic (it is high enough to allow walking - so stresses will not really be 38% of Earth, but much closer, I would think). Doesn't sound too convincing to me especially if preceded and proceeded by 6 months in zero g. How many years at 0.38 g are acceptable before the crew end up with some serious condition?
My optimistic hope is that it will become cool to really think about things... rather than just doing reactive bullsh*t based on no knowledge (Brian Cox)

Offline Vultur

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Taking a huge quantity of extra life support consumables is pretty easy for Starship but what nutritional condition will that food will be in when needed?

Assuming halfway rational mission planning, I would assume it would be fine, as food supplies would be selected with that scenario in mind...

Dietary variety might be less than desirable but not The Martian level bad.


Quote
well I'm glad I'm not in that crew! It might not present an immediate threat but...

Eh, if I were on that crew a slightly increased risk of developing cancer would be way down my list of worries...

Especially as radiation induced cancer IIRC generally takes decades to develop so assuming 2029 first landing (cargo ships in 2026) we are probably talking about dealing with it with 2050s medical technology, not current. IMO the risk really needs to be "discounted" for that factor.

Quote
Doesn't sound too convincing to me


I am not claiming this is certain - no one's spent more than a few days (Apollo) at sub-Earth but greater than microgravity levels - only that it seems likely.

Stresses on bones in walking are greater than those in standing still, and the walking stresses are driven by the muscles not static force of gravity. So a simple "38% of earth stress" assumption won't hold.

And weighted garments etc. could be used to further simulate Earth-like conditions.

Quote
How many years at 0.38 g are acceptable before the crew end up with some serious condition?

Personally I think it quite easily could be very high/indefinite. I wouldn't even rule out the possibility that 0.38 g might be healthier in some ways/for some people than Earth g.

OTOH I don't think people would spend more than 4-6 years/2-3 synods on Mars unless they intend to permanently settle, and the usual will probably be either 1 synod or permanently settling. If you permanently settle, you don't have to readapt to Earth, so even if your bone strength can only handle 0.38g that's fine.

Offline guckyfan

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Taking a huge quantity of extra life support consumables is pretty easy for Starship but what nutritional condition will that food will be in when needed?

Assuming halfway rational mission planning, I would assume it would be fine, as food supplies would be selected with that scenario in mind...

Dietary variety might be less than desirable but not The Martian level bad.


NASA found it to be very difficult, if not impossible. After setting very restrictive conditions like the same rations need to be usable on day 1 and last day of the mission, no food supplements.

With some food supplements, vitamins and minerals, it should be very manageable. Plus I expect a greenhouse for some vegetables.

Offline Vultur

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Well, as for what regular Earth food preservation technology can do, this USDA page (https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/shelf-stable-food) claims that MREs are usable for a month at 120 F and "7 years or more" at 60 F.

Keeping food cold shouldn't be a problem on Mars, so I don't see bringing food for 3 synods as at all impossible - though as stated before dietary variety would be likely to suffer.

Plus I expect a greenhouse for some vegetables.

Yeah, with Starship level mass capacity, why wouldn't you?

Offline Slarty1080

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With all that said I'd like to add a third option to the original post.  What I believe we really need is "Aquaman," the humans arriving know for a fact there is enough extractable water.  The Aquaman concept boils down to robots proving there is an ample water/ice supply and collecting enough dirty ice so that all waste heat can be devoted to melting/purifying(via distillation) said ice so that propellant plants can produce more than sufficient propellant for all humans arriving can return without any mass being wasted sending unnecessary radiator farms to Mars.
I believe this is basically what SpaceX are planning, and is just a sensible element of the ironman plan.

Slide 31 of their 2017 IAC presentation says that the first (robotic) mission will "confirm water resources".

https://www.spacex.com/media/making_life_multiplanetary-2017.pdf

There's a more recent presentation that says basically the same thing but I can't find it now.
I agree. The secret is sending the right mix of equipment and retiring the right risks with the autonomous mission.

1) Send 1000kg of water and process that into Methalox in the tanks – prove that everything about that part of the system works on Mars and generates an adequate yield of Methalox.

2) Send one or more robotic drill rigs to determine the depth of over burden and the extent, depth, thickness and purity of the ice formations in the immediate locality.

3) Send several experiments to investigate different methods of extracting water from the surface. For example surface excavation with ice collection and recovery, a “greenhouse” tent and adsorption bed above a drill hole. Just pick the three best experimental options available and try them out.

4) Send some deployable solar panel rolls. Send enough to get redundancy incase of problems.

If this first robot mission is a success it should demonstrate all of the key technologies required and retire enough risk to allow an ironman-light mission which would just be ironman but with much less risk. Any serious failure in the robot mission would then require reassessment and repeat in the light of experience gained.

1)  There is no known reason to suspect the technology won't work.  I can't argue against proving the concept as long as low interest rates mean we can do the tests at what will end up being very low costs but I do not expect the tests to turn up anything that hasn't already been predicted.  Should push come to shove I'd be willing to bet my own life going to Mars without having autonomously testing this step.

2)  My opinion is this must be done and repeated until we find extractable water and extraction technology beforeI'd put my life on the line.

3) If we've already demonstrated one viable water extraction technology my opinion is I am confident I won't die of thirst while testing alternative extraction technology.

4)  I've already helped out a buddy deploying solar panels here on Earth for a few sawbucks.  As long as enough panels reach Mars I am confident human labor can ensure the panels will be deployed.  Don't ask me to trust robots to do so though.

Edit: Spelling
This got me thinking. Maybe you are right re the Sabatier and solar set up and maybe trying it out in situ would be a simple NASA friendly tick in the box. But your right the water extraction is the big one. That said water extraction and characterisation should feature as the biggest part of the first autonomous mission. With a good site and multiple methods of accessing the ice it would seem likely that water could be collected.

If it could then it might pay to accumulate that water in the first autonomous Starship in the empty LOX tank perhaps. If water is easy and plentiful then this is unlikely to be needed, but if the ice is difficult to find or extract any that is extracted would make the life of the first crewed mission a lot easier as they would have at least some water available so they would need to dig out less.
My optimistic hope is that it will become cool to really think about things... rather than just doing reactive bullsh*t based on no knowledge (Brian Cox)

Offline Vanspace

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It is the blending of Autonomous with Manual that is the only path to success. There are some steps between here and there that need to be passed first. Humans can't shovel enough ore and even autonomous robots need supervision and repair.

Autonomous without local (less than 16 minute delay) ability to intervene or rescue "stuck" machines means its operations will be painfully slow because it must be extremely cautious. Not having the ability to repair any damages makes this caution even more limiting. Which is why current rovers travel at snail pace. For at least the first synod, there is no way to even reliably estimate what would be necessary to achieve any specific production. Every mining plan ever made has been modified once the picks hit the rock.

The first synod is for experimentally proving needed data across as many approaches as practical. Blasting and scooping, bulldozing, tunnelling, Rodwells (both heat and vacuum driven), microwave, greenhouses, passive heat concentrators and many other ideas are out there. Additionally, and most importantly for autonomy is that it needs to gather actual data to train autonomy AI's so the second generation is faster.

First trip needs to answer

1)What methods work on actual rocks on Mars
2)What is the actual extractable amount of water in each method
3)What is the production rate in terms of time, power and equipment consumed for each method
4)What is the breakdown rate of equipment

The first synod provides key operational information like: how many drill bits will be required for blasting 3000 tons of the 20% ice ore, how many rover/days of work will it take to move the ore to the refinery, how many Kwh does it take to get a kg of water from a Rodwell, How many sets of steering servos will fail from perchlorates each synod.

The second synod brings equipment and methods known to work and people who can rescue and repair equipment. Add in improvements in autonomy, increased tempo due to faster supervisory actions and any added efficiencies because there is somebody to actually see whats causing problems.

Once the colony is established ,human miners on Mars will mostly work in the supervision and repair role for largely autonomous equipment.
"p can not equal zero" is the only scientific Truth. I could be wrong (p<0.05)

 

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