Water is an essential chemical for sustaining any sort of life on the planet Earth. From what knowledge space explorations have provided us so far, this is true for life elsewhere in the universe as well, but there are deviations. Mars being our closest neighboring planet, it is only natural for us to try to locate water there. Additionally, with the human population on our home planet close to its saturation point, it is essential we plan to distribute the excess populace on nearby planets. For this, we need to make sure of the presence of water there or at least, the possibility of generating it simply and easily.
Collaboration between the Gilmour Space Technologies, Australia and the Singapore University of Technology and Design is exploring the Mars Aqua Retrieval System or MARS. This is a prototype for harvesting water from the soil of the Red Planet. The team has built the prospecting rover for less than $10,000. Based on the famous Single Board Computer, the Raspberry Pi and an Arduino unit, the rover uses microwaves to heat up and release the frozen water present in the Martian soil.
Although designed to work on Earth, the proof of the concept takes its basic idea from the discoveries made so far by Curiosity and the Phoenix Mars Lander. These extraordinary rovers have indicated the presence of water on the Red Planet. This water either is in non-liquid forms such as ice or buried in its soil. Engineers have designed the rover MARS to extract water from the Martial soil, collect and store it. With NASA recently declaring the presence of running water on Mars, project MARS has taken on an even greater importance.
Detailed documentation of the project indicates scientists considered various methods for each step of the process. The final concept involved separating and collecting water using microwaves and a cold trap. According to tests conducted by the team, they claim to have collected four grams of water from frozen soil in four minutes.
The process of water collection involves cycles of locating the MARS system using its two powered wheels to move to the target area, lowering a microwave unit over the ground and then heating the area for about 20 minutes. This releases steam from the Red soil and it enters a collection pipe leading to a condenser bag, where the steam condenses into water that finally drips into a collection box. The entire process is similar to distillation in any chemistry laboratory.
Although NASA provided only a meager budget of $10,000, the team has managed to create a prototype that presently functions satisfactorily on Earth. The two SBCs the Arduino and the Raspberry Pi in MARS control the locomotion and timing, the arm movements and the on/off switching of the microwave. The prototype is able to withstand 30% of the pressure and temperature conditions present on Mars.
According to Adam Gilmour, CEO of Gilmour Space, the US space agency has reacted favorably to the details of the MARS design sent to NASA. Although, in its present form, the prototype is unlikely to leave Earth’s atmosphere, MARS will be available for public view at the Gilmour Space Museum, north of Australia’s Gold Coast.