In-situ resource utilization

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Dust collectorCompressionCarbon monoxideCompressionCarbon dioxideNitratesAtmospheric processingNitrogenOxygenSabatier processMethaneWaterElectrolysisHydrogenMiningMiningFertilizerGlassIron ore
In Situ resources Utilisation. Copyright R. Heidmann

The use of local resources is called in-situ resource utilization or ISRU. This concept is critical to the survival of an autonomous or semi-autonomous settlement. The ISRU timeline is very rapid for most settlement plans since the initial Zubrin proposal of MArs Direct.



Main article: Atmospheric processing

Many of the elements and molecules in the atmosphere can be utilized. Condensation, followed by distillation, are often used to extract resources. The atmosphere is first cooled to a liquid or solid state. This is distilled at precise temperatures in order to separate the elements and molecules.

Carbon dioxide (CO2)

Carbon dioxide composes 96% of the martian atmosphere

Carbon dioxide is the main source of carbon, used for fuel production (CH4) and an essential element for life.

Nitrogen (N2)

Nitrogen composes 2% of martian atmosphere.

Nitrogen is used by plants and is part of a breathable atmosphere. Its concentration on Earth is 78% of the atmosphere.

Argon (Ar)

2% of martian atmosphere

Argon is an inert gas, useful in some industrial processes as an inert atmosphere and may be used as propellant in Electric Propulsion of spaceships.

Water (H2O)

Water is the main source of hydrogen, used for fuel production (CH4) and for the synthesis of hydrocarbons, the building blocks for life.

Lithosphere (surface)

Main article: Mining

Minerals in the crust of Mars must be mined and processed to be useful. The upper layer of Mars surface is called the Regolith. It is a mixtures of materials of various interest.


Water can be gathered in a variety of ways. It is available in the form of water ice or as hydrated minerals.


Silicates (SiO2) are useful for the production of glass and building materials. It is one of the main components of the martian planetary crust.

Iron ore

Iron ore ( Hematite:Fe2O3) or (Magnetite: Fe3O4) is a source of iron and steel, as well as oxygen or CO2, depending on the process used.


Alumina (Al2O3) is the source of aluminium. Processing also produces CO2 or water depending on the process used.


Calcium carbonate (CaCO3) is used for concrete production. Carbonates are also a potential source of carbon for carbohydrates. Sodium carbonates are used in glass production.

Carbonates are available on Mars.[1]



Nitrates are sources of nitrogen for plants and industrial processes, ammonia and explosives. Nitrates were discovered on Mars by the Curiosity rover in 2015.


(Mg,Na)SO4, NaCl, and (Mg,Ca)CO3. Magnesium, Calcium, Sodium, lithium, Chlorine. Practically all minerals and elements can be found in the form of salts. Sodium chloride (NaCl) is the most common salt, and is essential for life.

Chlorides are likely to be abundant on MArs.[2]


JPL has identified Thorium (Th) deposits on Mars, this is the preferred fuel in a number of Molten Salt Reactor designs. [3]


Energy is required to carry out ISRU. There are two known sources of energy on Mars, the sun and nuclear fission. Energy may be stored in a variety of ways for when the sources are not available.

Solar energy

Nuclear energy

Energy storage

Energy distribution

Embodied energy

Embodied energy is the sum of all the energy required to produce any goods or services, considered as if that energy was incorporated or 'embodied' in the product itself.[4] Embodied energy is a useful concept for the analysis of the production of martian materials, since all materials on Mars must be produced from either nuclear or solar energy.

Once the cost of energy on Mars is determined, the concept of embodied energy can be used to evaluate the cost of materials, and compared to the cost of transportation from Earth.



Mechanical compression of gases increases their density

Thermal processes

Heating and cooling are important processes that can be used to accomplish phase changes in various substances.

Crushing, milling

These are mechanical processes that break minerals down to individual crystals for separation and materials handling. Complex minerals such as basalts, granites or ores can be broken down for separation


Mechanical, centrifugal, Flottation,Distillation, Condensation

Chemical reactions


Hydrocarbon synthesis
Main article: Hydrocarbon synthesis

Hydrocarbons can be manufactured by combining hydrogen and carbon through a variety of reactions

Silicone Synthesis

Main article: Silicone synthesis



Deoxidation (usually, but not exclusively) of a compound into individual elements

single and double replacements.


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Water is essential for life. It is also a common process reagent, an excellent coolant for industrial processes and a source of hydrogen and oxygen using electrolysis.

On Mars it can also be used as a construction material or as radiation shielding. It can be condensed out of the atmosphere or extracted from the regolith.

Breathable Atmosphere

A breathable atmosphere is a basic requirement for life. It is also needed for heat transfer from people, plants and animals. Is is obtained from compression of the martian atmosphere, separation of excess CO2 and addition of oxygen to reach the desired proportions, that depend on the chosen atmospheric pressure in the habitats.


Habitats, including living and production areas, are assembled from manufactured products or possible naturally occurring areas sur as lava tubes, to create living areas for the colonists, plants and animals.

Food production


Plants are natural factories, capable of utilizing the atmosphere and regolith to grow and reproduce.

Manufactured Products


Propellant is one of the main ISRU products. It is required to make transportation less prohibitively expensive.

Cements, concretes and compressed regolith

Iron and steel

Iron and steel



Glass is one of the most common building materials on Earth and should be common on Mars as well, since it has unique properties of low cost and transparency. Silica, the main component of glass, is also the most common material in the martian crust.


Ammonia fertilizer

Hydrocarbons and plastics

See Also


  1. Wikipedia Carbonates on Mars[1]
  2. Wikipedia- Chlorides on Mars[2]
  3. Map of Martian Thorium at Mid-Latitudes, JPL Map of Martian Thorium at Mid-Latitudes ,, March 2003.