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I'm wondering what the most space and mass efficient system is to construct woven products such as rope, textiles, or clothing on Mars. Current textile production strategies often rely on methods which are unfeasible on Mars, such as Wool or conventional Polyester (petroleum based) manufacturing. Sheep and other animals that produce fibers require a huge amount of space and food and aren't really practical when living space and transport costs are at a premium. Polyester suffers a similar problem; So far we haven't discovered any easy-to-reach oil deposits on Mars and as such, making plastics in-situ is difficult.

Ideas:

  • Conventional cotton growing in greenhouses
  • Fibrous plants such as bamboo harvested for fiber
  • Mars imports bulk plastic (perhaps also for 3d printing) and makes polyester
  • Thread can be synthesized from the regolith?

Question:

  • What is the most space and mass efficient system for producing fiber for woven products on Mars assuming the cost of shipping in new fiber products outweighs the cost of producing them on Mars?
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  • $\begingroup$ This may be helpful: Sustainable Fibres and Textiles. The book is not space-focused, but it does look like some form of regenerated cellulose fibre (like Rayon) would be most efficient. Producing the cellulose on Mars shouldn't be difficult, but I don't have any information on how easy it would be to produce the treatment chemicals. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Feb 15 '18 at 13:31
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One possibility is basalt fiber cloth. It is made on Earth using only basalt rock, which is melted and drawn into threads as fine as 9 microns. A small amount of sizing is applied to the threads to prevent sticking during weaving, that accounts for less than one percent of the final mass. Here, the rock is washed, but that is done to remove organic materials, which don't exist on Mars or the Moon, so that step could be skipped. I have been interested in it for the Moon.

It requires a large furnace that can sustain something above 1200 degrees Celsius. The article linked above mentions 1500 Celsius, but there are significant chemical differences between basalt on Earth and on the Moon that will affect the operating temperature. I don't know what the situation is with Martian basalt, or how it varies over the planet. Only certain basalt deposits are considered suitable on Earth for production of fiber - however, if one was on a dead planet, one could likely find a way to make do with less ideal basalt.

This article from Composites World goes over the process and issues well. Here are a few key quotes:

1.

Unlike glass, which is transparent, the opaque basalt absorbs rather than transmits infrared energy... the melting basalt must be held in the reservoir for extended periods of time — up to several hours — to ensure a homogenous temperature. Basalt producers have employed several strategies to promote uniform heating, including the immersion of electrodes in the bath.

2.

Unlike glass, basalt fibers feature no secondary materials. The process requires only a single feed line to carry crushed basalt rock into the melt furnace. On the other hand, basalt fiber manufacturers have less direct control over the purity and consistency of the raw basalt stone... despite its ready availability from mines and open-air quarries around the world, only a few dozen locations contain basalt that has been analyzed and qualified as suitable for manufacture of continuous thin filaments.

3.

Basaltex, for example, found early on that woven basalt fabrics straight from a weaver's loom were fragile and easily damaged when handled, exhibiting broken fibers when sharply folded or bent, and were irritating to the skin. In order to make the product more stable, Basaltex developed a proprietary silane-based sizing that facilitates the post-manufacture processing.

Silane is composed of silicon and hydrogen.

There are many manufacturers and suppliers. I didn't want to single one out, but I do have a sample pack and a few meters of cloth. In terms of clothing, the textile is a bit stiff, but has a silky finish that isn't irritating. I haven't ever had it next to my skin for any length of time, though. For any application other than clothing, it should do the job of any textile or rope just fine.

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  • $\begingroup$ "but that is done to remove organic materials, which don't exist on Mars" - citation needed $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Feb 15 '18 at 16:04
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    $\begingroup$ @called2voyage i reserve the right to make sweeping generalities :) $\endgroup$ – kim holder Feb 15 '18 at 16:21
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    $\begingroup$ Mostly teasing :) $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Feb 15 '18 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ Certainly if there was organic matter, we wouldn't be power-washing it away... or even touching that entire region... $\endgroup$ – kim holder Feb 15 '18 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting answer. Although basalt clothing probably isn't a good idea, manufacturing high strength ropes and meshes allows onsite construction of composite materials and when combined with cement, allows rigid structure construction. $\endgroup$ – Dragongeek Feb 17 '18 at 15:25

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