Two Planet Steel's founder, Rif Miles Olsen, has won a Phase I contract for a NASA STTR project titled "Regolith to Steel Powder, Oxygen & Water with Small Equipment." The research institute major sub-contractor for this project is Professor James Klausner's research group in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University (MSU): Two Planet Steel would like to thank MSU, and Professor Klausner in particular, for agreeing to be the proposal's research institute partner. MSU will carry out crucial tests of the new technology, and will be vital for the success of this Phase I project and with a continuation to a Phase II project.
The project will develop technology to implement small-scale steel production, oxygen production and the liberation of bound water from the regolith found all over the surface of Mars. The technology's small-scale, along with its operability by robots, will allow this technology to be placed on the surface of Mars soon. Two Planet Steel hopes the first demonstration working system will lift off from Earth in the Summer of 2022 and land on Mars early in 2023. After that Two Planet Steel would like to see landings in 2025 and 2027 put four to ten more working systems on the surface of the Red Planet. A collection of such working systems, called "Steel Seeds" by Two Planet Steel, will, over a period of a few years, be able to produce substantial amounts of steel for human shelter construction and tool manufacture, oxygen for human breathing, and also liberate sufficient water from the regolith for the long-term survival of a small number of first human settlers. The steel will be made in steel powder form which is ideal for general fabrication in steel in a 3D metal powder printer. Two Planet Steel has preliminary designs for a special Martian 3D metal powder printer with the ability to print steel parts up to 4 m (13 feet) long.
Dr Olsen said, "This NASA contract is a big deal for Two Planet Steel. It feels like we have been ready to go for some time, but we have struggled to get anybody's attention or any credibility, let alone funding." He continued, "Without knowing about it (at first), our big break came from within an office called R3 in the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Last year this R3 office wrote a solicitation for proposals which was the first ever from NASA that our proposed technology could hope to get funding for. We tip out hats to the people of R3, who we still have not met, the text of your solicitation revealed what we consider visionary thinking on how to go about settling Mars." (R3 is short for Regolith, Resources, Robotics.)