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  • A "figure-of-merit" approach to extraterrestrial resource utilization

    Paper ID



    • Kumar Ramohalli
    • Thomas Kirsh


    Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering & NASA Space Engineering Research center for Utilization of Local Planetary Resources, The University of Arizona






    A concept is developed for interrelated optimizations in space missions that utilize extraterrestrial resources. It is shown that isolated (component) optimizations may not result in the best mission. Overall economics in the broadest sense must include the "costs" of transportation, storage, continuous monitoring, and corrective actions in situ. When all of these needs are quantitatively considered, it is shown that substantial benefits can be had through less-than-the-best propellants, propellant combinations, propulsion hardware, and, actually, some waste in the traditional sense. One ready example is the possibility of discarding hydrogen produced extraterrestrially by water splitting and using only the oxygen to burn storable fuels. The gains in refrigeration and leak- proof equipment mass (elimination) outweigh the loss in specific impulse. After a brief discussion of this concept, the synthesis of the four major components of any future space mission is developed. The four components are: orbital mechanics of the transportation; performance of the rocket motors; support systems that include power, thermal and process controls, and instruments; and in-situ resource utilization plant equipment. State-of-the-art numbers are used for the components' performances; each is studied in depth elsewhere, but those studies are beyond the scope of this paper, whose main aim is the development of the concept of a figure-of-merit for the mission. One specific example is used to illustrate the new concept; this is the Mars Sample Return mission. At this time, a popular spreadsheet is used to quantitatively indicate the interdependent nature of the mission optimization. Future prospects are outlined that promise great economy through extraterrestrial resource utilization and a technique for quickly evaluating the same.