First – a definition of SEPs: Solar electric propulsion takes advantage of magnetism and electricity to push a ship through space. Electricity, generated by the ship's solar panels, gives a positive electrical charge to atoms inside the chamber. They are pulled by magnetism towards the back of the ship and then pushed by magnetic repulsion out of the ship. (This is like what happens when you hold the same pole of two different magnets close to each other. They repel each other.) This steady stream of atoms going out of the spacecraft gives it the thrust it needs to go forward through space.
If you don’t have an understanding of the most recent plans for the Mars Mission then you might not understand the importance of the solar electric engines.
(include picture of potential mars trips)
First a whole lot will be going on in one of our ‘parking lots’. There are five areas in space called La Grange points that are the answer to our next step. When planning a trip, such as Mars, considering our atmosphere and the restrictions on listing as much cargo as we will have to pack for Mars, we have another way. We will send up some cargo ahead of time. Actually some is cargo, some would be the answer to some of the space crew’s needs; shielding to protect them from the high levels of radiation & room to stretch their legs. (after all six months is a long time!)
So get the need? NASA just invested $67 million into solar electric propulsion via a three year contract with the company Aerojet Rocketdyne – invested in what they hope will be a super-efficient tech. It is believed that this new technology could be as much as 10 times more efficient, delivering more thrust than a normal chemical engine.
The way NASA is doing this; is the way that will get us to Mars. NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) has explained how NASA is embracing partnerships that will expand both the opportunities and capabilities in space.
Solar Electric Engines (SEPs) will help us to get there, Mars I mean. BUT what will make it possible to live there? Good question.
No matter who gets there first Elon Musk or NASA. (Personally I think that he will do some of the heavy lifting, scouting out locations etc. so that NASA can get boot on the ground!) Still, regardless of who, they are going to have to breath and drink water. Don’t worry , NASA worked this out a long time ago. You just heard about flowing water on Mars (and that’s a plus!) but they had it figured out long before it was discovered. In fact there are so many possibilities for getting water and O2 that it’s hard to pick just one. (But I will) There is water in many forms on Mars, from actually running (thanks to a brine that changes its freezing temperature as well as the pressure which also prevents its freezing) to ice underground, the soil (which is made up of 60% water) or there’s the humidity. The below picture is of a device that comes to us from the University of Washington. Working much like a de-humidifier and extracting the water from the air
But wait, we still have to breathe! That’s okay, MIT (which has developed some awesome stuff from space suits to MOXIE!) more specifically, MIT Scientist Michael Hecht designed MOXIE. It is a reverse fuel cell that takes in the Martian atmosphere and gives back oxygen.
MOXIE- Mars OXygen In situ resource utilization Experiment, a machine designed by MIT scientist Michal Hecht is essentially a reverse fuel cell that sucks in the Martian atmosphere and pumps out oxygen. It was designed to be scalable and so accommodate more people as the Mars colon grows.
As far as food goes, well I am certain that everyone is well aware of hydroponics? And of course we will have, oh so yummy, dried food until we can get a crop…But wait, don’t we have food printers?
Shelter starts off as if you are camping but only so you can develop the lava tubes that will provide complete protection from the solar radiation as well as cosmic rays. During the “camping” phase we can utilize inflatable buildings (provided by Bigelow no doubt) or perhaps use the landers. Sure we don’t have to use the Lava Tubes as one could certainly make bricks out of the soil, but it is good to have options and besides, underground is very cool!
Take the journey with NASA, with SpaceX, with mankind...on to Mars!!!