Autonomous Resource Synthesis on Mars Utilizing Hydrogen (H2) Inflated Exploration Dirigibles

One of the major hurdles in building a Martian settlement will be construction materials, especially where gravity, being 62% lower than Earth’s, while making us stronger initially, won’t impart “superhuman” strength like the moon. And as over time settlers and indigenous colonists both will acclimate, we’ll need strong stuff...like steel, aluminum, glasses and ceramics with which to build. All of these materials can be produced from the Martian soil...but some stuff is still missing...like water and fuel. So let's get inventive for a moment ...imagining a giant blimp or dirigible, composed of a carbon fiber frame, covered by a solar panel skin...inflated with hydrogen gas, riding the wind above the surface of Mars. Something like this perhaps: www.aeroscraft.com John Carter might have ridden such a craft...envisioned by Edgar Rice Bouroughs, not so long ago.

What could we use it for?

How about hires aerial photography?
Resource prospecting.
Communication, as data relay or cell tower?

What about manufacturing?
Perhaps even someday travel?

Or, maybe all of these?
For over a decade several programs like this have been proposed, all with the goal of aerial mapping for future Mars missions. But what if we modify these goals a bit, taking advantage of the Martian atmosphere and gravity in order to also collect and create resources for future colonists? Things such as water, oxygen or rocket fuel.
 
So here’s the idea: Let’s develop a vehicle, much like the one that lowered Curiosity to Mars, which will also introduce a dirigible with sensing and mapping equipment, and a distillation system to
manufacture water from the atmosphere. Then, let’s “bottle” the water, use it as ballast and drop it along the explored surface for later recovery.
By deploying a bunch of these airships, we’ll explore the planet, like a Rhoomba vacuum cleaner, leaving along the way a valuable resources before we’ve even landed there.

Now I’m a “tinkerer” and a big fan of off the shelf components. All of this is possible with today’s technology...we’d just need to scale it up a bit.
So here’s the quick science...much of it pulled from Wiki to prove it’s possible. On Earth, we have lots of hydrogen, from our oceans to provide the necessary component of the following Sabatier reaction:
(named after the French chemist Paul Sabatier)
CO2 (primary component of Martian atmosphere) + 4H2 → CH4 (methane or rocket fuel) + 2H2O (water)
An alternative stoichiometric equation
3CO2 + 6H2 → CH4 (rocket fuel) + 2CO (carbon monoxide) + 4H2O (more water)
NASA is using the additional process to recover water on the International Space Station:
2H2O → O2 + 2H2 → (respiration) → CO2 + 2H2 + 2H2 (added) → 2H2O + CH4 (discarded)
...by adding a little electricity from wind or solar power we can generate O2 and recover H2 for recycling back into the system...keeping the balloons afloat. Add heat and we get Carbon useful for manufacturing:
CH4 + heat → C  + 2H2.

On a humorous note...basically, we’re building a giant floating solar powered icecube maker that doubles as a high altitude camera, can collect atmospheric gasses (think “Bespin” for all you Star
Wars fans) and can also be used as a cellphone tower so that ET can call home. And when they’ve run out of hydrogen and fallen to the ground, the machines can be refuelled to work like giant
snowcone machines by whoever finds them.

This process will be almost entirely autonomous and when combined with Martian soil, would help us manufacture raw materials like iron, steel, aluminum, glasses, ceramics, concrete, fertilizer, photocells,
fuels and coke ...not the drink, the chemical used in refineries.
While deploying the “floating ice cube machine” if we lower the steel thing next Ted Tague... we can produce many of the materials just mentioned. In November 2012 Ted Tague successfully Kickstarted the Hades Micro Steel Refining Furnace to, as he put it “change the economics for schools and small institutions to allow them to work with steel, to experiment with different alloys and to create steelbased objects: sculpture, parts, whatever.” I like the
“whatever” part...it goes well with a Mars Colony, “on the rocks”.
As his goal for Hades was “to develop a small scale steel production and experimentation furnace available for anyone to build for under $10,000 50-100 times less expensive than commercial solutions, his solution qualifies for a BarnStorm Studio A++ rating for potentially acquirable disruptive technologies. 

 

If we use his relatively inexpensive, transportable, gas furnace as a smelter, with the abundant raw materials such as Iron oxide ores, Sulfur, Silicon, Carbon, CH4 Methane and the O2 we make from water, we can produce construction materials for the colonies. All at a fraction of the price normally affordable to only large corporations and government agencies.Perhaps the beginning of Crowdsourced Planetary Exploration and Colonization, before we even set foot on our red neighbor.