Microbes and bacteria can produce rocket fuel for return flights from Mars

(ORDO NEWS) — One of the key obstacles to colonizing Mars has to do with fuel. If the people who flew to the Red Planet want to return to Earth , then they will need an adequate supply of fuel to launch the rocket and fly home – a huge logistical problem due to the large weight of the rocket fuel.

Fortunately, scientists believe that terrestrial microbes may be the key to making rocket fuel on Mars. A study by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, published in Nature Communications , shows that microbes called cyanobacteria, along with E. coli bacteria, can be used to make rocket biofuels.

Using a photobioreactor built on the surface of Mars, microbes will be able to produce sugar, which E. coli will convert into a usable propellant called 2,3-butanediol (2,3-BDO).

Propellant generation

While 2,3-BDO is not as powerful a fuel as what we usually use when launching from Earth, the study’s authors believe it will be enough to take off from Mars, which has less gravity.

“You need a lot less energy to launch from Mars, which gives us the ability to consider various chemicals not designed to launch rockets on Earth,” said Pamela Peralta-Yahya, co-author of the study and assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

“We started looking at ways to use the planet [Mars] ‘s lower gravity and lack of oxygen to create solutions unrelated to launches from Earth.”

Microbes and bacteria can produce rocket fuel for return flights from Mars 2

Fuel bioreactors

According to the publication, the process of producing enough fuel to travel to Earth will require the construction of a photobioreactor the size of four football fields. The system will be powered by carbon dioxide and sunlight, which are abundant on the Red Planet.

The study says the process will also serve a dual purpose: humans won’t need to carry large supplies of oxygen with them because the bioreactor will be capable of producing 44 tons of pure oxygen.

The team’s research was funded and supported by the 2020 NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts Award , so there is no doubt that the space agency is taking this idea very seriously.


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