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Postgraduate research project

All-in-one Mars in-situ resource utilisation (ISRU) system and life-supporting using non-thermal plasma

Competition funded View fees and funding
Type of degree
Doctor of Philosophy
Entry requirements
First class honours degree View full entry requirements
Faculty graduate school
Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences
Closing date

About the project

This PhD project aims to develop and optimise an All-in-One in-situ resource utilisation system for future crewed Mars exploration missions and explore the feasibility of using non-thermal plasmas for:

  • removing biological and chemical contaminants in extracted system water from Mars 
  • generating oxygen and rocket fuel from Martian atmosphere 

The unique capability of non-thermal plasma in producing active species is bringing emerging attention in the context of promising applications in water treatment/purification and carbon dioxide capturing/decomposing.

removing both biological and chemical contaminants in extracted water from the surface of Mars and generating oxygen and rocket fuel from CO2 in the Martian atmosphere.

Water, oxygen, and fuel are the most important resources for future human Mars exploration missions as they are crucial to keep astronauts alive and ensure a safe journey to our home planet, Earth. It is not feasible to carry all required amounts of water, oxygen and fuel for the entire duration of the Mars exploration mission. In-situ resource utilisation (ISRU), therefore, is the only viable option for future crewed missions to explore and pioneer the planet Mars.

Although Mars has water trapped in the polar ice caps and the beneath its surface, water extracted from the Martian surface/underground cannot be used directly because it can contain organic contaminants, bacteria, and viruses of known and unknown origins.

Previously, the University of Southampton has developed a plasma micro-bubble water (PMW) reactor which can remove the 99.8% of chemical contaminants (Methylene Blue) and achieve 8-log reduction against biological contaminants without using any filters and disinfectants. In addition, non-thermal plasma can be used to dissociate CO2 thus utilising rocket fuel (carbon monoxide) and oxygen from Martian atmosphere. As the plasma-based ISRU system does not need any modification to be used in new operating conditions, the developing ISRU system can be easily adapted to various unknown environments on Mars. This PhD project, therefore, will provide a sustainable solution to utilising resources for future crewed Mars missions exploring the unknown areas on Mars.

In this project, the candidate will develop a novel all-in-one in-situ resource utilisation system using non-thermal plasma. This project will the part of UK Space Agency’s exploration programme. Through this PhD project, the candidate will have a unique interdisciplinary research opportunity on investigating advanced plasma technologies which can introduce a paradigm shift in future space missions.