NASA has been giving a lot of thought to the impending Mars Mission. Yes, partly due to President Obama’s having directed the agency to get it done – to get people to the vicinity of Mars by the 2030s, without breaking the bank but also because it provided a challenge, and scientists & engineers love a good challenge.
Actually they have a ‘theoretical mission outline that includes traveling in 2033 to the moon Phobos. Breaking up the travel plan to the Red Planet perhaps into two parts limits the risks as well as the costs.
The part that is the coolest? - It is all going to happen in many of our lifetimes where we had thought we might miss out! (I am already so excited!)
With cost and time as motivators the JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) drew up a proposed mission architecture that will set astronauts on Phobos by 2033 and then over to Mars by 2039. Granted this is a concept not a planned mission, but it probably will bear a significant resemblance to what has to be the ‘ultimate mission’.
It is both amusing and somewhat odd that adding a stop to the mission would make it cheaper and more feasible. The ‘plan’ (which was devised by Price, John Baker and Firouz Naderi) is to establish a base on Phobos (a moon that orbits Mars about 3,700 miles from her surface and is about 10 miles wide). The first launches, as a total of four would be needed in preparation, would happen in 2029. This would be a space tug & two chemical-propulsion payloads – both a Phobos Transfer Stage and a Trans-Earth Injection Stage. The space-tug would haul the two payloads to Mars using solar-electric propulsion (SEP) and would complete that portion of the mission in just under four years.
The next SLS liftoff (the all new Space Launch System/Megarocket that NASA has in development for the Orion and going to Mars) would involve another SEP tug and the Phobos base. The tug would take the habitat to the base and stay there to provide power or move the base to new locations if desired.
The third SLS launch (as soon as 2032) will be carrying a deep-space habitat (similar to that for the Phobos base) and a Mars Orbit Insertion Stage to wait in Earth’s orbit.
The last SLS launch would carry the Orion capsule along with a crew of four and would meet up with the last launched materials in Earth’s orbit and start the 200 to 250 day journey.
The awaiting Phobos Transfer stage would act a ferry and take the astronauts down to the base on Phobos where they will remain for about ¾’s of a year. The crew would then head back to Earth to allow future crews to use the Phobos habitat. Completing this portion gives the remainder of the mission a ‘go’.
Now a similar multi-stepped approach: Once again utilizing the SEP tugs to preposition equipment — for the astronauts who will be traveling to the Martian surface in 2039, however this second phase of the Red Planet effort would require six SLS launches, not four.
A 23 ton Lander would be sent into Mar’s orbit. This Lander would include a habitat, as well as a Mars Ascent Vehicle that would get astronauts off the Red Planet and on their way back to Earth.
This lander would go down to the planet without the aid of parachutes. It would rely on retrorockets and, perhaps, a drag-increasing Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (SIAD), a prototype version of which the space agency has been testing – and will again in Hawaii, the ‘flying saucer’ that can best assist in a safe landing on Mars.
Granted, the Lander is able to support a crew of 2 for 28 days but none of that is necessary. Flag & Footprints and then longer missions of the 12 month variety could be next on the missions planned list.
I’m only sorry that we won’t be utilizing the underground caverns for a nice homey place to stay. Perhaps for the longer visits!