UK team designs human mission to Mars

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Scientists at Imperial College London have designed a concept mission to land astronauts on Mars.


The plan envisages a three-person crew journeying to Mars aboard a small two-part craft.

The craft would rotate to generate artificial gravity and use a heat shield to protect itself against solar flares.

The crew would then return to Martian orbit in a pre-sent craft fuelled using ice from beneath the planet's surface.

The concept, developed in conjunction with the BBC, is intended to spark further debate about the technical obstacles and risks that would have to be overcome in order to put humans on Mars.

"Every part of this mission scenario has been demonstrated one way or the other, including the in situ propellant production on the surface of Mars," said Prof Tom Pike, who led the Imperial design team.

Written By: Neil Bowdler
continue to source article at bbc.co.uk

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  1. This looks like an interesting design concept, as it addresses quite a few key issues. The use of a tether to provide artificial gravity is the lightest of the low energy options for doing this. The other options are a rigid boom, or a rotating wheel structure. The high energy / short voyage solution, is simply to accelerate the craft at one G. The use of water as a radiation shield is a good idea, but I have doubts about the mass of water required to be effective adding weight to the craft.

    I think these short-stay “there and back” missions with small crews are premature as far as scientific work is concerned. In terms of human colonies off Earth, mining bases on asteroids make much more sense, as they do not require fighting planetary gravity in landings and take-offs. Habitation with rotation for artificial gravity, could be on, inside, or near such bodies, with underground caves providing water and other materials as well as radiation shelters.

    The danger with short term “gimmick” objectives is, (as with Apollo), that those lacking a long-term view will give up the projects after achieving their token successes and media acclaim.

    For a look at the scientific exploration by humans on Mars, this should have been mentioned in the list of other proposals.
    http://www.bis-space.com/products-page/books/project-boreas-a-station-for-the-martian-geographic-north-pole/

  2. It is fantasy-plans like this that give me hope for the human race. It also makes we wish I could live another century. If the 21st century produces technical advances at the same rate as the 20th did, it will be a shame to miss out on seeing them.

  3. I really don’t understand why the BBC science team seems alergic to numbers and statistics. Their collegues in the sports department certainly seem happy to throw them at us. Imagine BBC sports reporting Usain Bolt as really really fast, and with a really low time. Trust us! It’s amazing! We’d tell you what it is, but we really don’t think you’d be all that interested! So why is science and engineering talked about in that manner?

    This story isn’t even that. It’ about a random young child (one of thousands) who might grow up to acomplish something, but you know, probably won’t. Plans for mars trips are ten a penny. And they almost always start in orbit, but getting stuf into orbit is the hardest part of the mars mission, because that’s the part that costs money. Oh but that’s a hard problem, and ICL either doesn’t like those, or doesn’t like talking about them.

    Really want to impress us? Solve that hard problem! Cut launch costs by one order of magnitude, and every industrial nation on the planet can afford to go to mars. Two orders of magnitude, and they can do it for governmental pocket change, and it might even be within reach of the Imperial College itself.

    It wouldn’t be so bad if there was anything new or clever about the idea. But no. Just build a really big chemical rocket in Earth orbit. Use a minimum fuel transfer orbit. Spin on a rope for gravity. Mine the surface for obviously easily obtainable fuel, and be careful not to go crazy on the way there or back. Solve ration with lots of heavy expensive mass – or maybe magnets! (Cause those are magic, am I right fellas? Am I right?) What a generic pile of utterly old and recycled ideas. Innovation? New technology? Origonal concepts? Obviously the ICL has no interest in such things…

    • In reply to #4 by ANTIcarrot:

      … Really want to impress us? Solve that hard problem! Cut launch costs by one order of magnitude, and every industrial nation on the planet can afford to go to mars. Two orders of magnitude, and they can do it for governmental pocket change, and it might even be within reach of the Imperial College itself….

      I have been thinking about this for a day or so, as a design concept, I would give it 5/10 for effort. Because:-

      1) What if the tether breaks? (have three masses in a ring/three point star formation)

      2) What if they cant find/mine fuel? (pre send fuel by cheap robotic space missions)

      3) Humans are the most sophisticated thinking machines we have, ( Artificial inteligence is catching up fast, maybe even faster than GB can build a rocket to get men into orbit)

      4) Another cheapish way to get lots of “mass” into orbit, power the craft with very long ground based rail gun.

      If I can do that in a few days, I am sure other can come up with far better ideas.

      • In reply to #11 by old-toy-boy:

        4) Another cheapish way to get lots of “mass” into orbit, power the craft with very long ground based rail gun.

        One way of greatly improving launch efficiency is to reduce or eliminate the need for first stage fuel of propellants.

        There is a problem with atmospheric friction and the high escape velocity of Earth, but from a Moon base or asteroid, a rail-gun or maglev ramp would provide a propellant free launch to orbit or beyond.

        A rocket sled launch is a method of launching space vehicles. A rail or maglev track and a rocket or jet booster is used to accelerate a sled holding a vehicle up an eastward facing mountain slope. Substantial fuel savings can be gained since the spacecraft does not need to use its engines for the initial acceleration, allowing a single-stage-to-orbit reusable vehicle.

        For hypersonic research in general, tracks at Holloman Air Force Base have tested, as of 2011, small rocket sleds moving at up to 6,453 mph (10,385 km/h) (Mach 8.5).

        In the vacuum of the Moon there would be no air drag, and no need for additional rockets. The package on a maglev sledge could achieve the 6,000mph+ needed to achieve Moon orbit.

        Maglev (albeit at lower speeds) is already up and running on the Japanese bullet trains.
        http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-06/05/japan-maglev-train-test

  4. In reply to #6 by aroundtown:
    A wee bit off topic but every time I read about elevators being a good way to get things in orbit because the things lowered from a satellite in synchronous orbit will be able to pull other things up meaning no energy is required after the initial set up, I can’t help but think that both sets of objects will be pulling the satellite down out of orbit and that it will therefore require a great deal of propulsion to keep it in orbit. Or am I looking at it too simplistically and have missed something important?

    In reply to #4 by ANTIcarrot:

    I really don’t understand why the BBC science team seems alergic to numbers and statistics. Their collegues in the sports department certainly seem happy to throw them at us. Imagine BBC sports reporting Usain Bolt as really really fast, and with a really low time. Tru…

    • In reply to #7 by headswapboy:

      I read about elevators being a good way to get things in orbit because the things lowered from a satellite in synchronous orbit will be able to pull other things up meaning no energy is required after the initial set up, I can’t help but think that both sets of objects will be pulling the satellite down out of orbit and that it will therefore require a great deal of propulsion to keep it in orbit. Or am I looking at it too simplistically and have missed something important?

      The limitation of elevator systems is in the strength v weight of the tethering cable, rather than any adjustments to obits (which would be small in comparison to surface to orbit fuel requirements).
      There is yet to be a discovery of a material suitable for a 22,000 mile tether from Earth, but elevators may be possible on low-gravity bodies.

      • Thanks, that makes sense. Cheaper rather than free. That’ll teach me for getting my knowledge from ‘The Science of Discworld.’

        In reply to #8 by Alan4discussion:

        In reply to #7 by headswapboy:

        I read about elevators being a good way to get things in orbit because the things lowered from a satellite in synchronous orbit will be able to pull other things up meaning no energy is required after the initial set up, I can’t help but think that both sets of object…

  5. In reply to #5 by aroundtown:

    This is the first time that I have heard of asteroid habitation possibilities other than just the quick blurb on mining them. It sounds very intriguing and makes me wonder how long the cyclical (orbital) nature would be to re-connect and re-supply a habitation that was initiated from Earth. Also seems like an excellent sling-shot of sorts to leave on the opposite side of the orbital arc to reach other destinations while having some protection on the asteroid home. Very intriguing indeed.

    There are a number of related issues, which make a great deal of sense.

    First asteroids are broken planetesimals, so materials (metals) which are rare or deep in the core of planets like Earth, are accessible.
    With the limitless solar-thermal energy in the inner Solar System, smelting metals in orbit should be manageable. Spraying liquid metal on to cold surfaces (such as walls of a mine tunnel) should give an air-tight lining. With Solar or nuclear electric power sources, large volumes of water ice could be converted into hydrogen and oxygen.

    In the context of Mars, there are proposals to set up bases on its moons (which are believed to be captured asteroids):-

    The end goal remains footsteps on Mars, but the approach may involve the use of deep space and Phobos as the precursor for a manned mission to the Red Planet. – http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2010/01/taking-aim-phobos-nasa-flexible-path-precursor-mars/

    The plan is move small asteroids to near Earth or Lunar orbits, where they are more accessible to astronauts and robots exploring mining possibilities.
    http://www.space.com/22135-nasa-asteroid-exploration-ideas.html

    If more distant large self supporting asteroid bases were established, these could provide stepping stones to the outer Solar System, or even to other stars. It is very cold out there, but nothing that good insulation and nuclear electric heaters cannot fix.

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