Economic Analysis for In-Situ Resource Utilization on Mars in Support of the Generation of Rocket Fuel and Potable Water; Implementation of Water Purification Technologies in Rural Areas of Developing Countries

Alexander, Hannah, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Anderson, Eric, EN-Chem Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Ferguson, Sean, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

While recent decades have been marked by improved access to potable water in many parts of the world, there is still a significant portion of the global populace that does not enjoy this privilege. In order to obtain safe drinking water, such communities require filtration devices that are suitable for the requirements and limitations of their specific locality. Outside of the earthly context, manned missions in space serve as another scenario in which there is a need for safe drinking water. Although to different extents, the following technical and STS theses both touch on the topic of water purification for the purpose of human consumption.

The technical thesis involves the design of a process employing in-situ resource utilization on Mars to generate rocket fuel and potable water. The objective of the research was to determine the economic viability of creating these products using in situ-resource utilization when compared to the alternative approach of shipping them from Earth. It was established that over the course of one launch window cycle it would not be cost-effective to make use of this process without considering liftoff cost savings on potable water. However, considering such savings or using the in-situ resource utilization system across multiple launch window cycles would be profitable because the significant majority of the involved capital would not necessitate replacement.

The STS thesis involves an investigation and evaluation of case studies of humanitarian engineering projects that relate to implementing water purification technologies in rural areas of developing countries. The objective of the research was to identify the strategies that have been deemed good practice for implementing sustainable filtration devices. This was accomplished by reviewing a collection of instances in which safe drinking water either succeeded or failed to be provisioned. It was established that the framework of codesign, which entails the engagement of an array of stakeholders and actors throughout a project’s life cycle, is the single most central strategy to the implementation of sustainable filtration devices in rural areas of developing countries.

For as long as I can remember, I have sought a career involving the direct incorporation of filtration devices into disadvantaged regions. Both the technical and STS theses allowed me to explore the unique professional applications of this ambition as well as to expand my knowledge base related to access to potable water. I am pleased to know that the capabilities that I gained from my work this year, such as carrying out engineering calculations, conducting literature reviews, and honing teamwork skills, will benefit me in the workplace.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
in-situ resource utilization, Mars, rockel fuel, potable water, water purification technologies

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Eric Anderson
STS Advisor: Sean Ferguson
Technical Team Members: Donovan Hensley, Lessanu Mequanint, Cameron Tanaka

Issued Date: