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#1 2013-10-21 06:49:07

Terraformer
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From: Lancashire
Registered: 2007-08-27
Posts: 3,209
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How self-sufficient?

Exactly as the title says. How self-sufficient can we expect Mars (and the interplanetary economy sans Terra...) be, and on what timescale?

Modern chip fabs cost between 3 and 10 billion dollars to construct. I don't think there'll be an economic argument for constructing one for a while, but perhaps accepting lower performance chips (oh noes! We're back in the early 90s!), the cost could be lower? Unless, of course, the entire process can be performed by a small, we designed machine...

As far as other computer components go, how advanced would we need to be to start producing LCD (Liquid Crystal Display, in case bobunf turns up) screens? What about printed circuit boards?

Computers are probably the most advanced pieces of technology by far that we can expect to need, but what about thinks such as lightbulbs, extra machines, lasers etc? Hopefully by the time we get there, the Open Source Ecology/RepRap/FabLab teams will have a lot of designs and a small RepFab that can manufacture what we'll need (again, I'll say it - space enthusiasts need to support such efforts, because they're creating enabling technology for space colonisation).


"I guarantee you that at some point, everything's going to go south on you, and you're going to say, 'This is it, this is how I end.' Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work." - Mark Watney

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#2 2013-10-21 07:59:04

RobertDyck
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From: Winnipeg, Canada
Registered: 2002-08-20
Posts: 5,886
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Re: How self-sufficient?

In the 1980s, I built a modem card myself. I purchased a copper clad board, and hand etched. It was a fibreglass/epoxy board, with a layer of copper applied to both sides. I used tape to cover traces, and a felt tip pen to apply additional resist. Then dipped the card in a plastic box filled with ferric chloride. That dissolves any copper not covered, becoming cupric chloride and iron particles precipitate; the liquid becomes black. I drilled holes for pins of chips using a hand drill. And soldered with a soldering iron. Obviously a hand made circuit board does not have plated through holes, so I used side cutters to cut a short piece of wire, held with needle nose pliers while I soldered the wire first on one side of the board, then the other. Some holes with a resistor or chip socket were simply soldered on both sides. Some traces etched under the tape or pen-applied resist, so I had to inspect and solder over the traces. It worked. I started with a single large chip that had most of the circuitry for a dial-up modem. It plugged into an ISA slot. This was in the days of 8088 processor. And I wrote the device driver myself for MS-DOS. It worked, that was the modem for my Windows 3.1 computer.

At the time I lived in a single bedroom apartment, in a multi-story building but I was on the ground floor. Other stories had a balcony, but ground floor apartments had a patio the same size as a balcony. The patio was 1 square yard prefabricated concrete tiles, while balconies were poured reinforced concrete. Due to fumes, I did the etching outside on the patio. If I can do that, then Mars settlers should be able to do the same.

When I worked at Micropilot, I fabricated automated testing and calibration equipment for the autopilots they manufactured for miniature UAVs. I had some aluminum parts custom machined, but altered a plastic air pump for an aquarium to function as a vacuum pump. I used two pumps, one for pressure to calibrate the pressure transducers for pitot tubes, the altered pump produced reduced pressure to calibrate the pressure transducer for the altimeter. I used silicone aquarium air tubing, because the entire rack was placed in an environmental chamber. It used 460-volt 46-amp heaters to increase temperature to +70°C, and liquid nitrogen to reduce temperature to -55°C. I used insulated flexible ducting intended for a clothes drier to duct outside air into the environmental chamber. Winnipeg winter temperature is cold, so pre-chilling with outdoors air saves liquid nitrogen. It can get down to -20°C in winter, the extreme low is -40°C but that is only at night on the coldest night of the year and the last time it got that cold was January 2005. But still, cold air saves LN2. A one-way valve let air into the chamber, a flap valve I hand made from a sheet of neoprene with "thermal insulation" on the back. I cut it from a new car floor mat, adhered to the stainless steel chamber wall with epoxy, using isopropyl alcohol to pre-clean surfaces. That was 99.975% anhydrous isopropyl alcohol, used for cleaning computer parts. To hold it until the epoxy set: duct tape. I used industrial solenoid valves to close tubing from pumps to reservoirs, and reservoir bottles were from a residential recycling blue box: 2L pop bottle for pressure, glass liqueur bottle for vacuum. One executive from Lockheed-Martin cocked his head at the setup, so the boss ordered me to replace the bottles with new fibreglass capacity bottles intended for aircraft instruments. The 0.9L bottles didn't work as well as the 2L bottles, but the setup looked good for corporate executives. Control circuitry was made with a solid state relay that I hand soldered, with input from control pins of an RS-232 serial port. Exhaust fan for the air duct was controlled via another hand soldered circuit. The main controlling computer was a normal tower PC running Windows XP. Another serial cable connected to the microcontroller for the environmental chamber. Another serial cable to a pre-calibrated autopilot that I used to control the calibration rack. I used its pressure transducers as a base-line to calibrate pressure transducers for the 24 autopilots being calibrated. The one used to control the rack had servo outputs, intended for the same servos as a radio controlled toy aircraft, but for a professional UAV. However, the one used for the calibration rack controlled servos to rotate platforms the other autopilots were mounted on. To make the rack simple, rather than some complicated arrangement with bearings and leavers, I purchased all-metal professional servos, and mounted the platforms directly on the servo spline. The whole rack was rotated by a smart motor with 100:1 gear ratio transmission. I tried a large servo intended for "Robot Wars", but it wasn't steady enough. The smart motor with transmission produced very smooth movement. This allowed me to rotate autopilots in two dimensions. We used gravity to calibrate accelerometers, and rotation to calibrate rate gyros.

I did all that in a small shop with drill press, radial arm saw, hand drill, soldering iron. I did have access to parts, and one contractor manufactured custom platforms to my specifications. I found the company that manufactured disks for the servo manufacturer; since he had a die for the spline, he could make the platforms easily. And another company used a CNC laser cutter to make the base to mount the servos. I tried with wood, but it wasn't steady enough.

Other technicians worked on the autopilots themselves. The used an arm magnifying glass with fluorescent lamp. They hand soldered surface mount resistors and even surface mount chips. I never did learn to do that, but they did. They used a professional grade soldering station: 100-watt with base that has a dial to control tip temperature.

All nice stuff, but still small. Done in a little shop, not a factory. If we can do all that, then a shop on Mars can too.

By the way: when I worked there Micropilot had a picture of one of their technicians at Devon Island. NASA was a customer, one of their UAVs at Haughton Mars Project.

Last edited by RobertDyck (2013-10-21 12:00:10)

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#3 2013-10-21 08:22:38

RobertDyck
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From: Winnipeg, Canada
Registered: 2002-08-20
Posts: 5,886
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Re: How self-sufficient?

The only things in my previous post that can't be made in a small shop are chips, or computer displays. You could use LED instead of LCD, but still. How do we make those?

Last edited by RobertDyck (2013-10-21 09:27:28)

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#4 2013-10-21 09:21:46

Terraformer
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From: Lancashire
Registered: 2007-08-27
Posts: 3,209
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Re: How self-sufficient?

You think we can produce nearly everything? What parts other than computer components (inc. displays) do you think might be difficult?

At any rate, it does seem like the parts that will be difficult to manufacture are ones with a very high value-mass ratio, so there shouldn't be too much of a problem with importation - bring in a tonne and you're set for a good long while, especially if each colonist is bringing a few kg with them.

Magnetic tape memory can be used if we have to, and we could always go back to CRT screens... tongue Or just print out LED screens. I don't think we're all that far away from that point. They might not have the same resolution that we Terrans are used to, but they'll be good enough. If people want better, they can pay extra for imported LCDs. Maybe the market will drive improvements in LED screens.


"I guarantee you that at some point, everything's going to go south on you, and you're going to say, 'This is it, this is how I end.' Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work." - Mark Watney

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#5 2013-10-21 10:20:38

RobertDyck
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From: Winnipeg, Canada
Registered: 2002-08-20
Posts: 5,886
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Re: How self-sufficient?

I envision a major export from Earth being laptop computers, chips, LCD display screens, etc. Including USB memory sticks, solid state "hard drives", and some circuit boards.

By the way, an LCD display is actually as thin as a sheet of glass. Most of the thickness (and weight) is the backlight. Could we make a backlight on Mars? A fluorescent backlight is filled with argon gas, with a drop of mercury. The backlight is transparent plastic, at least they were, don't know if they've gone to glass now. But inside surface is coated with a "fluorescent" coating to convert UV to visible light. That's mostly phosphor, and often called "phosphor", but pure phosphor produces a yellow light. They used to use antimony, which blue and some blue-green, but add other things now. Wikipedia says the old style is Ca5(PO4)3(Cl, F):Sb3+, Mn2+). It says new ones use rare earths: terbium, europium, and yttrium. Elsewhere that same article says Tb3+, Ce3+:LaPO4 for green and blue emission and Eu:Y2O3 for red, so add cerium and lanthanum to the list. If we can find these materials, we can make fluorescent light fixtures, as well as fluorescent backlights for LCDs.

And speaking of launch mass, what would it take to manufacture a laptop battery? I know the anode is lithium metal, that's what makes it "lithium ion", but what else?

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#6 2013-10-21 11:07:45

Terraformer
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From: Lancashire
Registered: 2007-08-27
Posts: 3,209
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Re: How self-sufficient?

Are we likely to be using Li-ion batteries at that point? We can definitely produce batteries on Mars. Perhaps we could also produce fuel cells. Those can store more energy than Li-ion anyway, so it's plausible that we won't be using Li-ion by the time the first colonies are established.

It would be interesting if colonists end up bringing along a few kg of computer parts to pay for their new homes.


"I guarantee you that at some point, everything's going to go south on you, and you're going to say, 'This is it, this is how I end.' Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work." - Mark Watney

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#7 2013-11-03 13:11:31

SpaceNut
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From: New Hampshire
Registered: 2004-07-22
Posts: 17,884

Re: How self-sufficient?

The inital post starts out with a premiss of how much front loading is done for a sustainable colony to begin and that does start on mission one where people land to start the process of occupency to stay.

High on the pole is power creation, oxygen, water and food as well as shelter expansion in order to stay. One will initally need to learn how to do more with less or recycle what is not needed once its landing needs are finish and no future launch is to make use of it.

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#8 2013-11-07 15:06:03

Glandu
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From: France
Registered: 2011-11-23
Posts: 106

Re: How self-sufficient?

tough  thing is that you need plenty of simpler things to make more complicated things...and plenty of people to make those things. IMHO, you need a few dozen million people before electronics becomes thinkable.

Just collecting raw materials, with enough different elements, & refining them will be a daunting task.


"I promise not to exclude from consideration any idea based on its source, but to consider ideas across schools and heritages in order to find the ones that best suit the current situation." (Alistair Cockburn, Oath of Non-Allegiance)

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#9 2013-11-08 02:18:12

JoshNH4H
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From: Pullman, WA
Registered: 2007-07-15
Posts: 2,526
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Re: How self-sufficient?

Well, we don't need that many different raw materials.  The basics are:

CO2 (atmospheric)
Nitrogen (atmospheric)
Water (glacial deposits, ideally equatorial)
Iron (Should be ore everywhere)
Aluminium (should be ore somewhere)
Silica
Dirt (for bricks and radiation shielding)
Sodium (For NaOH, from soil)
Sulfur (For Sulfuric acid, from soil)
Basalt (from basaltic rockfield, should be quite common if not ubiquitous)

While there will presumably be other materials required by the colony, these put together should account for 95% of the material inputs.  Other materials can be imported (early on) or later scavenged with whatever regularity is needed.  Depending on the quantities needed, it seems possible that one person could do some of these jobs, or even more than one.  It's a function of the size of the deposits relative to the need, how easy/hard it is to find new ones, and what quantity of material is needed.  I would suggest that CO2 and Nitrogen would be obtained almost entirely by automated process; Once the colony is up and running marginal water need won't be too high; Same with sodium and sulfur.  Basalt would probably see a high volume of use but is rather easy to find and collect using a bulldozer.  Dirt is likewise extremely easy (could be the detritus from other processes).  I would expect iron mining to be annoying but because of the high surface concentrations we could take our pick of the best ores.  Finding silica might be an issue, but it's also possible that we could make our glass using leftovers from the Iron production process instead of finding near-pure silica. 

Some kind of minimal operation should be possible without pulling in too many people.


-Josh

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#10 2013-11-08 07:27:06

RobertDyck
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From: Winnipeg, Canada
Registered: 2002-08-20
Posts: 5,886
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Re: How self-sufficient?

At the Mars Society convention in Chicago, I presented a paper on how to smelt aluminum from bytownite. That's a mineral common on Mars surface. On Earth we mine bauxite for aluminium, but that's the result of a tropical rain forest extracting nutrients from soil over millions of years. Rain converts igneous rocks to clay, plants add organic matter, but plants also extract nutrients. Mars never did have a tropical rain forest, so no bauxite. Instead of using strong alkali to dissolve aluminum, then add weak acid to neutralizing pH causing aluminum to precipitate, my idea was to use strong acid to dissolve, then use weak alkali to neutralize pH. The result is the same aluminum hydroxide. Remaining steps would be the same. This only works with anorthite and bytownite, which is plagioclase feldspar high in calcium and low in sodium, but Mars Global Surveyor had found 21.5-27% of Mars surface is bytownite. Turns out I have re-invented the wheel: a company in Sweden is already doing it with anorthite.

Mars Exploration Rover B, named Opportunity, found hematite concretions. MGS had found indications of hematite, which is why Opportunity was sent there, but MGS didn't know they were concretions. Those concretions are ideal iron ore; easy to mine, and easy to smelt.

Feldspar is aluminum silicate, anorthite is calcium alumino-silicate while albite is sodium alumino-silicate. Bytownite is 70-90% anorthite, the remainder albite. Dissolving in acid means it will have silicon dissolved too. That doesn't precipitate when you neutralize pH. Acid with dissolved silica is recycled by boiling. When steam boils off, silica gel precipitates. That's the same silica gel used to keep electronics dry. It has to be calcinated to drive off water before it can be used as a desiccant; that means bake it, but not so hot you melt it. If you calcinate to completion, it becomes silica, which is pure silicon dioxide. That doesn't act as a desiccant, but is the primary ingredient in glass. You could melt and add soda and lime to make glass, or further purify to make silicon for electronics.

With Earth supplying high-tech tools, Mars could ramp up to sophisticated manufacturing fairly quickly. It would take dozens of people, but not millions. My earlier argument is a small shop can manufacture circuit boards. To do so with hand tools requires double side circuit board instead of multi-layer, but fine, do that. Manufacturing integrated circuits (chips) is more involved, and will be imported from Earth for a very long time. But eventually Mars will have sufficient industry to do that too.

Last edited by RobertDyck (2013-11-08 07:41:21)

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#11 2013-11-08 11:06:11

JoshNH4H
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From: Pullman, WA
Registered: 2007-07-15
Posts: 2,526
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Re: How self-sufficient?

To be fair, there is a difference between replacing the Bayer process, which produces nearly pure Aluminium Oxide, and the Hall-Heroult process, which is more akin to a smelting step.   It sounds like you have a good alternative to the Bayer process, but I don't know of any feasible alternative to the Hall-Heroult process.  It's a bit of an issue because it uses a lot of energy and requires a source of fluorine.  It requires fairly high temperatures, too.

Then there's the original method of passing Sodium gas over Aluminium oxide, but that was infeasible in the 1800s and I don't see why it would be better today.


-Josh

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#12 2013-11-08 20:45:28

RobertDyck
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From: Winnipeg, Canada
Registered: 2002-08-20
Posts: 5,886
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Re: How self-sufficient?

My idea was just use the Hall–Héroult process. My only modification was a graphite anode instead of fused coke. Coke is coal with sulphur burned off; there's no coal on Mars. So use the reverse water gas shift to completion, converting CO2 into carbon soot. Then apply heat and pressure to convert soot into graphite. You won't get the strongest graphite, but it doesn't have to be strong. Just enough to hold together. Oxygen from alumina combines with carbon from the anode to form CO2. That's why anodes are consumed. So I suggest getting CO2 from Mars atmosphere, then create an anode. Since pure CO2 is produced during smelting, just recycle it.

A modification to Hall–Héroult is Söderberg anodes. That produces continuous anodes, adding a mixture of coke and pitch to the top of the anode, and slowly extruding down as the bottom is burned off. Heat from smelting aluminum caused the coke/pitch mixture to harden. So instead of batches, replacing anodes with each batch, you get a continuous process. Pitch is produced from coal, oil, or wood. Mars doesn't have any of those either.

Yea, it requires a lot of electricity. It also requires some fluorine, but that isn't consumed. Cryolite, either natural or synthetic, is a catalyst. There should be fluorine somewhere on Mars. We need it anyway to make Goretex fibre to repair spacesuits.

Last edited by RobertDyck (2013-11-08 21:46:20)

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#13 2013-11-08 21:15:02

JoshNH4H
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From: Pullman, WA
Registered: 2007-07-15
Posts: 2,526
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Re: How self-sufficient?

You make a good point.   My one suggestion would be to further modify the process by making the anode out of something other than carbon.   What that does on earth is to cut your energy costs because we do have coal.   However, on Mars it costs just as much energy to make carbon and it's less efficient than the more direct Hall-Heroult process.   In fact, it might be possible to simplify the design by using liquid Aluminium (which floats atop the cryolite, I believe) as one electrode, and another metal perhaps as another.   You would if course want something resistant to oxidation for long lifetime.   If there is any gold, platinum, nickel, or silver lying around this would be the place to use it.   Meteoric nickel shouldn't be impossible to find. 

I don't like the Hall-Heroult process because it's an energy hog that operates at high temperatures with rare and toxic materials, but physical and chemical laws suggest that we have no choice and that we'll probably stick to using Aluminium for wiring and as few other applications as possible.


-Josh

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#14 2015-07-04 18:36:10

SpaceNut
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From: New Hampshire
Registered: 2004-07-22
Posts: 17,884

Re: How self-sufficient?

[url=http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/2015/07/mars-chemistry-curiosity-chemin]Getting the measure of Mars
[/url]

Thanks to its guiding role, ChemCam was the first Curiosity instrument to identify water in the planet’s soil. ‘One element that has a strong signal with ChemCam is hydrogen,’ Blank says. ‘At the surface, all targets have high hydrogen absorption.’ As Curiosity went to and paused at a sandy location dubbed Rocknest, ChemCam consistently found around 2% water by weight in 139 targets.1 ‘There’s a lot more water than in lunar rocks,’ Blank observes. ‘But in terms of extracting it, you’d have the same challenges as extracting water from Earth rocks

The scooped Rocknest sample also gave the Sample Analysis at Mars, or Sam, instrument a chance to flex its scientific muscles, wringing important conclusions from the water residues. Sam later found that a mudstone rock encountered on Mars contained 1.5–3% water, but more importantly, it also identified that water’s origin. The clues came thanks to Sam’s TLS, which can measure the ratio of deuterium to hydrogen (D/H).

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