In-situ resource utilization

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The use of local resources is called in-situ resource utilization or ISRU. This concept is critical to the survival of an autonomous or semi-autonomous settlement.

Colony ISRU.png


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Main article: Atmospheric processing

Many of the elements and molecules in the atmosphere can be utilized. Condensation, followed by distillation, are often used to extract resources. The atmosphere is first cooled to a liquid or solid state. This is distilled at precise temperatures in order to separate the elements and molecules.

Carbon dioxide (CO2)

98% of martian atmosphere

Carbon dioxide is the main source of carbon, used for fuel production (CH4) and an essential element for life.

Nitrogen (N2)

1% of martian atmosphere

Nitrogen is used by plants and is part of a breathable atmosphere

Argon (Ar)

1% of martian atmosphere

Argon is an inert gas, useful in some industrial processes as an inert atmosphere and may be used as propellant in Electric Propulsion of spaceships.

Water (H2O)

Water is the main source of hydrogen, used for fuel production (CH4) and for the synthesis of hydrocarbons, the building blocks for life.

Lithosphere (surface)

Main article: Mining

Minerals in the crust of Mars must be mined and processed to be useful.


Water can be gathered in a variety of ways. It is available in the form of water ice or as hydrated minerals.


Silicates (SiO2) are useful for the production of glass and building materials. It is one of the main components of the planetary crust.

Iron ore

Iron ore (Fe2O3 or Fe2O4) is a source of iron and steel, as well as oxygen or CO2, depending on the process used.


Alumina (Al2O3) is the source of aluminium. Processing also produces CO2 or water depending on the process used.


Calcium carbonate is used for concrete production. Carbonates are also a potential source of carbon for carbohydrates.

Carbonates are available on Mars.[1]



Nitrates are sources of nitrogen for plants and industrial processes, ammonia and explosives.


Energy is required to carry out ISRU. There are two known sources of energy on Mars, the sun and nuclear fission. Energy may be stored in a variety of ways for when the sources are not available.

Solar energy

Nuclear energy

Energy storage

Energy distribution








Chemical reactions (synthesis)


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Water is essential for life. It is also a common process reagent, an excellent coolant for industrial processes and a source of hydrogen and oxygen using electrolysis.

On Mars it can also be used as a construction material or as radiation shielding.

Breathable Atmosphere

A breathable atmosphere is a basic requirement for life. It is also needed for heat transfer from people, plants and animals.


Food production


Plants are natural factories, capable of utilizing the atmosphere and regolith to grow and reproduce.

Manufactured Products


Propellant is one of the main ISRU products. It is required to make transportation less prohibitively expensive.

Hydrocarbon Synthesis

Main article: Hydrocarbon synthesis

Hydrocarbons can be manufactured by combining hydrogen and carbon through a variety of reactions.

Silicone Synthesis

Main article: Silicone synthesis

See Also


  1. Wikipedia Carbonates on Mars[1]