Author Topic: Carbon Monoxide for fuel on Mars  (Read 37841 times)

Offline john smith 19

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Re: Carbon Monoxide for fuel on Mars
« Reply #40 on: 10/15/2012 09:18 AM »
Interesting paper on all this:

A CHEMICAL APPROACH TO CARBON DIOXIDE UTILIZATION ON MARS
*Very* nice paper. Thanks for the reference. The mass reduction for even the Earth return stage looks very good. I'd thought CO/O2 was only *really* viable to get back to Mars orbit but that does not appear to be the case.

My only quibble is the authors go after Ethyne (Acetylene) instead of Propyne which is a known industrial fuel and AFAIK has none of the explosion hazard of Acetylene and would not need dilution. I guess its chemistry is not as well known.
BFS. The worlds first Methane fueled FFORSC engined CFRP structured A380 sized aerospaceplane tail sitter capable of flying in Earth and Mars atmospheres. BFR. The worlds biggest Methane fueled FFORSC engined CFRP structured booster for BFS. First flight to Mars by end of 2022. Forward looking statements. T&C apply. Believe no one. Run your own numbers. So, you are going to Mars to start a better life? Picture it in your mind. Now say what it is out loud.

Offline A_M_Swallow

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Re: Carbon Monoxide for fuel on Mars
« Reply #41 on: 10/15/2012 10:45 AM »
As regards the thread title CO/O2 looks like a very usable system for work *on* Mars and acceptable performance for ascent *from* Mars.

But slightly off topic does it also make a viable fuel for return *from* Mars?
{snip}

If the transfer vehicles uses Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) there is plenty of Argon in Mars's atmosphere.  Concentrated Argon is a waste product when extracting the CO2.

Offline mmeijeri

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Re: Carbon Monoxide for fuel on Mars
« Reply #42 on: 10/15/2012 03:42 PM »
LH2/LO2 is the obvious propellant for the EDS but would it be a serious hit in tank size and payload to go with a return propellant *solely* mfg on Mars?

You mean for return to Earth? I think LOX/LH2 is far from obvious for that, with hypergolics being the clear favourite, followed by LOX / methane produced from Martian carbon dioxide with hydrogen / water brought from Earth.
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Offline cordor

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Re: Carbon Monoxide for fuel on Mars
« Reply #43 on: 10/15/2012 06:05 PM »
Also, here's an interesting proposal from Zubrin, et al, of a mixed methane/CO/O2 propellant Martian ISRU rocket system, which benefits from the added density of CO but retains most of the Isp of methane while also making the production equipment easier and smaller and more productive for a certain energy input, and Methane/CO/O2 all are storable at the same temperature, making common-bulkheads easier:

http://www.techbriefs.com/component/content/article/3365
http://hdl.handle.net/2060/20080047195
Mars Rocket Propulsion System (published November, 2008)

Sounds like a total win, except you still have to have more development of rockets using such a propellant combination (EDIT: And, you still will likely need to bring hydrogen from Earth).

It sounds complicated and less reliable. Don't think you can mix liquid CO and liquid methane. If not, then you need 3 tanks for pressure fed system, or 3 pumps for gas generator cycle. on top of that, where do you generate methane? on mars? you need to bring hydrogen, equitment to make methane, and extra set of tool to make CO.

How about,  producing biogas(methane) while your astronauts are on the way to mars, at the same time you have a robot producing CO on mars surface. In stead of mixing methane and CO, the lander use methane for descent, and the same lander same engine same tank use CO to ascent.

Offline john smith 19

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Re: Carbon Monoxide for fuel on Mars
« Reply #44 on: 10/15/2012 06:34 PM »
You mean for return to Earth? I think LOX/LH2 is far from obvious for that, with hypergolics being the clear favourite, followed by LOX / methane produced from Martian carbon dioxide with hydrogen / water brought from Earth.
The report you cited helps answer that question. I thought of LOX/LH2 because NASA is very fond of this combination for "high energy" missions and that seems to be the lead option for their architecture.

Given the cited report on the *very* positive effect of using ISRU on the mass you have to put into LEO that would seem to open up the field quite a lot, at the expense of multiple rendezvous, docking and propellant transfers, which seems like a fair trade to me.

The tradeoff between water and LH2/LO2 looks quite interesting. If you have a use for the oxygen in water My BOTE suggest that you can deal with 2 m^3 of LO2 and LH2 or 630l of water. 

BFS. The worlds first Methane fueled FFORSC engined CFRP structured A380 sized aerospaceplane tail sitter capable of flying in Earth and Mars atmospheres. BFR. The worlds biggest Methane fueled FFORSC engined CFRP structured booster for BFS. First flight to Mars by end of 2022. Forward looking statements. T&C apply. Believe no one. Run your own numbers. So, you are going to Mars to start a better life? Picture it in your mind. Now say what it is out loud.

Offline Robotbeat

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Re: Carbon Monoxide for fuel on Mars
« Reply #45 on: 10/15/2012 07:22 PM »
Also, here's an interesting proposal from Zubrin, et al, of a mixed methane/CO/O2 propellant Martian ISRU rocket system, which benefits from the added density of CO but retains most of the Isp of methane while also making the production equipment easier and smaller and more productive for a certain energy input, and Methane/CO/O2 all are storable at the same temperature, making common-bulkheads easier:

http://www.techbriefs.com/component/content/article/3365
http://hdl.handle.net/2060/20080047195
Mars Rocket Propulsion System (published November, 2008)

Sounds like a total win, except you still have to have more development of rockets using such a propellant combination (EDIT: And, you still will likely need to bring hydrogen from Earth).

It sounds complicated and less reliable. Don't think you can mix liquid CO and liquid methane. If not, then you need 3 tanks for pressure fed system, or 3 pumps for gas generator cycle. on top of that, where do you generate methane? on mars? you need to bring hydrogen, equitment to make methane, and extra set of tool to make CO.

How about,  producing biogas(methane) while your astronauts are on the way to mars, at the same time you have a robot producing CO on mars surface. In stead of mixing methane and CO, the lander use methane for descent, and the same lander same engine same tank use CO to ascent.

I'm fairly confident you CAN mix methane and carbon monoxide... both are miscible in liquid oxygen (which can be... interesting).

And NO, you do NOT need an extra set of tools to make CO. Making CO is done automatically when you make oxygen from carbon dioxide, and you use CO to produce methane. This method actually simplifies the process since you can skip the step of separating the CO from the methane (which you normally have to do if you want to ONLY use methane).


If you're making oxygen from the Martian air, you're already making carbon monoxide by default. The question is whether or not you're going to do anything with it. That is why the Zubrin proposal is interesting...

Also, if you do have a rocket that runs on CO/O2 or a mixture of CH4/CO and O2, then the question may come up on whether you could switch fuels... A good point, cordor (although producing biogas is a non-starter... except for bad jokes ;) ).
« Last Edit: 10/15/2012 07:29 PM by Robotbeat »
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Offline cordor

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Re: Carbon Monoxide for fuel on Mars
« Reply #46 on: 10/15/2012 10:22 PM »
carbon monoxide boils at −191.5 C, methane melts at -182 C. When you have liquid CO, does methane supposed to be ice?

Offline Robotbeat

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Re: Carbon Monoxide for fuel on Mars
« Reply #47 on: 10/15/2012 11:45 PM »
carbon monoxide boils at −191.5 C, methane melts at -182 C. When you have liquid CO, does methane supposed to be ice?
...maybe at STP. But you're going to have to pressurize those tanks, anyway. But at a reasonable ullage pressure (say, 36psi), the liquid phases of methane and carbon monoxide overlap. Besides, mixing two liquids often changes their freezing/boiling points.
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Offline cordor

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Re: Carbon Monoxide for fuel on Mars
« Reply #48 on: 10/16/2012 01:31 AM »
I still don't see how "Zubrin proposal" is interesting. If you make CO and O2 on mars surface, you don't need to bring any raw material, as long as your solar panel and equitment whatever work, it keeps making propellant.

On the other hand, you want extra methane, you need to bring hydrogen, that's logistic problem, worst case you need to launch from earth all the way to mars.

Is it really worth that extra performance? you know 290s isp is not so bad, F-1 only has 263s.  I was thinking you can use robot craft to bring extra CO+O2 propellant store on orbit, for return flight or lander. If you don't have to carry return propellant or fuel for landing, that's interesting. the  Zubrin proposal just bust my dream. 



« Last Edit: 10/16/2012 01:56 AM by cordor »

Offline RocketmanUS

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Re: Carbon Monoxide for fuel on Mars
« Reply #49 on: 10/16/2012 02:03 AM »
I still don't see how "Zubrin proposal" is interesting. If you make CO and O2 on mars surface, you don't need to bring any raw material, as long as your solar panel and equitment whatever work, it keeps making propellant.

On the other hand, you want extra methane, you need to bring hydrogen, that's logistic problem, worst case you need to launch from earth all the way to mars.

Is it really worth that extra performance? you know 290s isp is not so bad, F-1 only has 263s.  I was thinking you can use robot craft to bring extra CO+O2 fuel up to mars orbit for return flight propellant back to earth, that  Zubrin proposal just bust my dream. 




There is water on Mars already, in the soil and air. No need to bring the hydrogen to Mars. As Mars needs to be a long term project, no flag and foot step, it is better to send the needed equipment to extract the water for our needs. If you bring the hydrogen from Earth and it leaks out ( our other loss ), it is better to have the ability to get hydrogen from were you are than not have enough from Earth.

That said, a commercial developed reusable lander using CO/O2, even with it's lower ISP over other options could be the better choose for surface to orbit.

Having that and adding a CO/O2 powered OTV ( orbital transfer vehicle ) between a Mars orbit gateway station and a SML-1 gateway station were a SEP powered trans hab would be stationed to take the crew back to Earth by way of an EML-2 gateway station.

Offline RocketmanUS

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Re: Carbon Monoxide for fuel on Mars
« Reply #50 on: 10/22/2012 03:24 AM »
Are there other ways to split CO2 to make CO/O2?

Can it be done with Sun light with a way to separate the two before they would recombine?
« Last Edit: 10/23/2012 03:52 AM by RocketmanUS »

Offline Joel

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Re: Carbon Monoxide for fuel on Mars
« Reply #51 on: 11/02/2012 12:05 AM »
The Martian atmosphere has 3 % nitrogen. How feasible is it to extract this and produce nitrogen tetroxide (NTO)? Might be much easier to handle than LOX on Mars, since it does not need to be kept cool for 2+ years and could easily be stored as a liquid or even as a solid.

I don't know if NTO can be used as an oxidizer for CO or CH4, but if you bring hydrogen with you, you could produce hydrazine. NTO+Aerozine-50 (1.93 O/F ratio) is storable, well known as a rocket fuel and just 5 % hydrogen by weight.

EDIT: Corrected numbers
« Last Edit: 11/02/2012 12:38 AM by Joel »

Offline Warren Platts

Re: Carbon Monoxide for fuel on Mars
« Reply #52 on: 11/02/2012 12:19 AM »
You can use CO2 itself as an oxidizer if you use magnesium for the fuel...
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Offline cleonard

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Re: Carbon Monoxide for fuel on Mars
« Reply #53 on: 11/02/2012 01:42 AM »
The Martian atmosphere has 3 % nitrogen. How feasible is it to extract this and produce nitrogen tetroxide (NTO)? Might be much easier to handle than LOX on Mars, since it does not need to be kept cool for 2+ years and could easily be stored as a liquid or even as a solid.

I don't know if NTO can be used as an oxidizer for CO or CH4, but if you bring hydrogen with you, you could produce hydrazine. NTO+Aerozine-50 (1.93 O/F ratio) is storable, well known as a rocket fuel and just 5 % hydrogen by weight.

EDIT: Corrected numbers

Making N2O4 is not easy.  You need hydrogen.  First you use the Haber process to make ammonia.  Then you use part of the Ostwald process where you basically burn the ammonia with oxygen resulting in NO2. 

The thing that carbon monoxide has going for it is that it is a single process.  Simplicity is important for an application like this.

Offline Robotbeat

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Re: Carbon Monoxide for fuel on Mars
« Reply #54 on: 04/27/2016 02:43 PM »
Necrobumping this thread, but...

I recently saw a presentation by Geoffrey Landis, and he said that the optimal exhaust velocity from an energy standpoint is equal to about 2/3rds of your mission delta-v (exhaust velocity equal to current velocity is actually the most efficient as it leaves the exhaust with exactly zero kinetic energy relative to the rest frame, but requires you to adjust your exhaust velocity continuously, and also requires ridiculously big tanks at the beginning). The very minimum effective delta-v (ignoring gravity drag, but including gravitational energy and ignoring aerodynamics and including the benefit from Mars' rotation) is 3.4km/s. Let's say we get really good thrust/weight ratio and low drag, then perhaps the real-world delta-v could be about 4km/s.

2/3rds of 4km/s is 2.7km/s. That is doable by CO/O2. Thus from an energy perspective, CO/O2 may actually be more efficient from an energy perspective than other propellant combos (unless you "cut" them down by adding CO2 or something to the propellant), plus is ubiquitous on Mars and very dense. It's almost like Mars is telling us to use CO/O2...

...if only CO/O2 weren't so dangerous to test on Earth. Still, we use hydrazine which is pretty fantastically horrible, so I don't think CO/O2 would be impossible.
« Last Edit: 04/27/2016 02:54 PM by Robotbeat »
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Offline A_M_Swallow

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Re: Carbon Monoxide for fuel on Mars
« Reply #55 on: 04/27/2016 03:27 PM »
Carbon monoxide detectors are cheap and can be purchased at good hardware stores.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Monitor-Sensor-Carbon-Monoxide-Detectors/dp/B00DKXHHJ6

Build the lab and launch pad to burn off any CO that escapes. Consider issuing breathing apparatus to people handling the propellant.

Offline Tetrakis

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Re: Carbon Monoxide for fuel on Mars
« Reply #56 on: 04/27/2016 03:44 PM »
We use CO all the time in organometallic chemistry. To answer some practical questions:

1. It is not a liquid in pressurized tanks at room temperature.

2. It does not spontaneously decompose at room temperature.

3. It would be energy efficient to recover from the Martian atmosphere via pressure-swing gas adsorption separation technologies. O2 and CO are fairly reactive gases which makes them especially susceptible to this sort of thing. You would need to liquefy the CO and O2 at the end anyway, so dual-purposing the cryogenic equipment for cryogenic distillation is another easy option.

Now a question from me:

can Mars landers use nickel? I didn't realize Mars' atmosphere contained so much CO. CO will spontaneously react with nickel to form nickel tetracarbonyl, perhaps one of the most toxic substances known to man. In a laboratory setting nickel is rigorously excluded from CO applications.

Offline Proponent

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Re: Carbon Monoxide for fuel on Mars
« Reply #57 on: 04/27/2016 04:09 PM »
Necrobumping this thread, but...

I recently saw a presentation by Geoffrey Landis, and he said that the optimal exhaust velocity from an energy standpoint is equal to about 2/3rds of your mission delta-v (exhaust velocity equal to current velocity is actually the most efficient as it leaves the exhaust with exactly zero kinetic energy relative to the rest frame, but requires you to adjust your exhaust velocity continuously, and also requires ridiculously big tanks at the beginning). The very minimum effective delta-v (ignoring gravity drag, but including gravitational energy and ignoring aerodynamics and including the benefit from Mars' rotation) is 3.4km/s. Let's say we get really good thrust/weight ratio and low drag, then perhaps the real-world delta-v could be about 4km/s.

2/3rds of 4km/s is 2.7km/s. That is doable by CO/O2. Thus from an energy perspective, CO/O2 may actually be more efficient from an energy perspective than other propellant combos (unless you "cut" them down by adding CO2 or something to the propellant), plus is ubiquitous on Mars and very dense. It's almost like Mars is telling us to use CO/O2...

...if only CO/O2 weren't so dangerous to test on Earth. Still, we use hydrazine which is pretty fantastically horrible, so I don't think CO/O2 would be impossible.

I wanted to include CO/O2 in playing with the trade between specific impulse and density, and I've got CO's fluid properties from NIST.  Unfortunately, RPA Lite does not have CO in its database.  I have not taken the time to figure out how to get CO into RPA Lite, nor have I figured out how to get CEA to do batch runs (I need an Isp curve as a function of mixture ratio; hints, anybody?).  But otherwise I'm all set to compare CO/O2 against other combinations for a delta-V of 4 km/s and can optimize the mixture-ratio program.

Offline sevenperforce

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Re: Carbon Monoxide for fuel on Mars
« Reply #58 on: 04/27/2016 06:51 PM »
It would be amusing if flying to Mars, landing, cracking CO2 into CO and LOX, then launching, flying back to LEO, and refueling an Earth LEO propellant depot proved cheaper than refueling a propellant depot from Earth.

Offline A_M_Swallow

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Re: Carbon Monoxide for fuel on Mars
« Reply #59 on: 04/27/2016 07:47 PM »
It would be amusing if flying to Mars, landing, cracking CO2 into CO and LOX, then launching, flying back to LEO, and refueling an Earth LEO propellant depot proved cheaper than refueling a propellant depot from Earth.

One off certainly. Multiple journeys may have a different result.

Mars has a very thin atmosphere so ordinary planes will have big problems. Point to point sub orbital flights using CO/LOX rocket engines may work. The break even point for sub orbital may be where the mass of fuel used is at least twice the mass of the 2CO2 to CO + O2 cracker.

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