NASA Ponders Budget Missions to Mars, but Delayed till 2039

This self-portrait of NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) during the 177th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars (Feb. 3, 2013), plus three exposures taken during Sol 270 (May 10, 2013) to update the appearance of part of the ground beside the rover. (JPL, NASA)

Taking cue from ISRO’s most economical Mars Orbiting Mission, with a bidget cut of $300 million on anvil, NASA scientists have proposed a new step-wise approach to send humans to Mars saving on money and making it much efficient.

While scientists are exploring resources within to minimize the budget, Hoppy Price, John Baker, and Firouz Naden from Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, have proposed a landing mission in 2033 on Mars moon Phobos and a short-stay mission on Mars in 2039 to be followed by a year-long landing on Mars in 2043.

In an editorial titled, ‘We Can Send Humans to Mars Safely and Affordably,’ Stanford University’s New Space Editor-in-Chief G. Scott Hubbard said the complex engineering, safety and health issues for long-term space travel have been addressed already.

Hubbard also ruled out that the manned mission to Mars will be abandoned in view of the budget cut. Instead, he wrote, the dream of sending people to Mars is very much alive. It is only a matter of consensus on strategy for a long term mission of sending humans to Mars program that awits the final nod, he added.

E-Sail Technology?

What Hubbard missed entirely is that the solar wind sail for cheap flight to and fro Mars could also be possible in future with refueling facility mid-air, thanks to E-sail technology’s novel propellant-less technolgy. invented a decade ago and is under scanner now for revisit.

The E-sail tech or electric solar wind sail, uses the dynamic pressure of the solar wind as a source of thrust. It uses an electric field for deflecting solar wind protons and extracting momentum from them. Invented by Pekka Janhunen from Finland, the E-sail could make asteroid mining feasible.

“After finding a suitable water bearing asteroid, a mining unit could be sent by the Electric Sail to extract the water from asteroid soil,” says Janhunen, adding that this can be achieved by heating the material and letting the vapour get into a cool container for condensing.

Once it is filled, it should be separated from the mining unit and transported with an E-sail in to the orbit of Mars or Earth, where it is split into hydrogen, oxygen and liquefied. The liquid hydrogen or oxygen fuel can be pumped into the tanks of manned vehicles on voyage between Earth and Mars.

“With cheap propellant available in Mars orbit, there is also the option of fully propulsive landing on Mars which eliminates the need of a massive and expensive heat shield,” said authors of a paper that was published in the journal Acta Astronautica.


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