Russia Courting Mars After 2035?

Posted by on Apr 14, 2011 in Mars, Russia | 2 comments

Mars lovers, take note! It looks like a former superpower has set their sights upon the crimson world a couple of decades from now, as Russia plans on visiting the red planet within our life time.

Unfortunately for us however, there seems to be a small problem.

Russia will test a next-generation spacecraft, build a new cosmodrome and even consider a manned mission to Mars after 2035, the nation’s space chief said Wednesday. […]

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev vowed Tuesday that space will remain a key government priority, but skeptics said the nation has done virtually nothing to develop a successor to the 43-year-old Soyuz spaceship. (MSNBC / AP)

NASA currently has plans on visiting the red planet as well, although their timeline is in limbo due to recent budget cuts.

While Russia’s date of visitation is preferable, unless the nation can reinvent itself within the next decade, our hopes of visiting Mars will have to wait until we conquer the Moon.

Or let the Chinese pioneer the final frontier for us. 😉

Update: Corrected article above. Thanks!

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Conquering Mars Via Bouncing, Rolling Robots

Posted by on Mar 23, 2011 in Mars, Technology | 0 comments

Despite the fact that humanity already has one active rover (note: we had two), a planetary orbiter and a super rover being built to unlock more Martian mysteries, the truth is that we still understand very little about the red planet’s surface.

While sending flesh and blood to explore the red planet would go a long ways to demystifying Mars, due to the tight budget it might be wiser to instead send cheap bouncing robots.

It has been suggested during the Mars cave exploration programme, that an effective way to explore a larger surface area would be the use of many, small and fully autonomous robots. […]

The simulation results show that 50 swarm robots can cover an area of over 300 meters square completely in 5 sols while they are searching for cave entrances and returning results to the Lander which is a major performance improvement on any previous mission. Furthermore areas of interests found by the explorers are sorted in order of importance automatically and without the need of computational analysis, hence larger quantities of data were collected from the more important areas. Therefore the system – just like a hive of bees – can make a complex decision easily and quickly to find the place which matches the required criteria best. (Science Direct)

As seen in the video above, the bouncing, rolling robots would have yet another advantage over their rover brethren as they would not only be able to bounce their way around rocks, but could also be sent to explore craters as well (instead of merely gazing into them).

The only “flaw” with the robot swarm idea is the fact that the swarm has to report back to the Lander, which may prove difficult if a high number become lost while exploring the crimson world.

It might be wiser for the roving red warriors to instead transmit data on site to the lander via radio waves (or to a satellite orbiting above), which would relieve the robots from having to double back after making a long journey.

(Hat Tip: Physorg.com)

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Could Solar Wind Power Martian And Lunar Colonies?

Posted by on Oct 16, 2010 in Energy, Mars, Moon, Solar Essay | 0 comments

When it comes to settling our nearest neighbors, both Mars and Luna (aka the Moon) present unique challenges as far as energy goes.

Although one could always import numerous mini-nuclear reactors upon each respective world from Earth (controversy aside), it may make more sense to rely upon the fiery breathe from our Sol star.

Instead of physically rotating a blade attached to a turbine, the proposed satellite would use a charged copper wire to capture electrons zooming away from the sun at several hundred kilometers per second.

According to the team’s calculations, 300 meters (984 feet) of copper wire, attached to a two-meter-wide (6.6-foot-wide) receiver and a 10-meter (32.8-foot) sail, would generate enough power for 1,000 homes.

A satellite with a 1,000-meter (3,280-foot) cable and a sail 8,400 kilometers (5,220 miles) across, placed at roughly the same orbit, would generate one billion billion gigawatts of power.

That’s approximately 100 billion times the power Earth currently uses. (Discovery News)

Although this idea is being proposed for usage upon our home world, it might be easier (not to mention wiser) to adapt it to power future colonies upon the Moon as well as for Mars.

Even though the first explorers of Mars and Luna will use solar power to help keep the lights on, using our Sun’s solar wind could allow us to power cities without having to rely upon nuclear fuel imports from Earth.

Perfecting this technology would allow Lunar settlements to operate during the 2 weeks of darkness while Martian outposts might be able to transform one of their asteroid moons (preferably Deimos) into a gigantic power station that could help power Martian cities every few days.

While it’s skeptical that something like this would be allowed near Earth (due to the environmental consciousness of our global governments), it would make more sense when used for off world colonies upon Luna, Mars and beyond.

(via MSNBC, Image Credit: NASA and the Journal of Geophysical Research – Space Physics)

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If VASIMR Is Vapor Ware, Is A Martian Mission Doomed?

Posted by on Sep 7, 2010 in Mars, Technology | 3 comments

(Image: A concept of a VASIMR-powered space craft. Credit: Ad Astra Rocket Company)

Seen by many to be the “great red hope,” VASIMR has the potential to shorten a six month journey to the red planet to about 40 days.

Unfortunately it looks like brighter minds have weighed in on the realities of VASIMR, and have concluded that the technology has more in common with Star Trek than reality.

Another concern is that for a Mars mission, VASIMR would have to use a nuclear power system that doesn’t exist yet. Mars Society president Robert Zubrin warned that mission designs that used VASIMR had unrealistic expectations about the mass of such reactors. The largest space nuclear power systems, the Topaz nuclear reactors developed by the former Soviet Union, generated 10 kilowatts and had a specific power, or alpha, of 100 kilograms per kilowatt. NASA had hoped to get alpha down to 65 kg/kW with its now-cancelled Prometheus program, and Zubrin said that if one is “quite optimistic” an alpha of 20 kg/kW was possible. The VASIMR-based Mars mission concepts, he said, assume an alpha of 1 kg/kW. “That’s like steel with the weight of Styrofoam,” Zubrin said. “It has no relationship with reality.”

Assuming an alpha of 20 kg/kW, Zubrin said, means that a reactor that generates 200 megawatts would weigh 4,000 tons. (By contrast, the VASIMR mission architectures with the 39-day travel times had assumed an overall mission mass of approximately 600 tons.) Moreover, the best travel time you could get with this much more massive system is six to eight months, comparable with conventional chemical propulsion systems, Zubrin claimed. “The numbers don’t add up,” he said. (The Space Review)

If humanity can not find a way to shorten the trip to Mars, then future explorers face the risk of being too weak to walk the crimson soil due to the effects of micro gravity.

Worse, a long journey can expose astronauts to excessive amounts of radiation which can not only damage equipment, but our fragile brains as well.

While humanity could always resort to portable magnetic fields, heavy shielding and a steady diet of fish (as omega-3 can keep bones strong in micro gravity), finding ways to shorten the trip is probably wiser if we want to see Mars colonized within our life times.

Hopefully someone else can come up with a reasonable solution that doesn’t include our grandkids earning their grey hairs wondering why we never set foot on Earth’s nearest planetary neighbor (after Venus that is).

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Confirmed: Micro Gravity Turns Martian Astronauts Into Girly Men

Posted by on Aug 21, 2010 in Health, Mars | 3 comments

Despite the blessings of weighing less than a feather while treking through the final frontier, scientists have confirmed the side effects of micro gravity which can do more damage than weakening ones immune system.

Fitts, Chair and Professor of Biological Sciences at Marquette, believes if astronauts were to travel to Mars today their ability to perform work would be compromised and, with the most affected muscles such as the calf, the decline could approach 50%. Crew members would fatigue more rapidly and have difficulty performing even routine work in a space suit. Even more dangerous would be their return to Earth, where they’d be physically incapable of evacuating quickly in case of an emergency landing.

The study – the first cellular analysis of the effects of long duration space flighton human muscle – took calf biopsies of nine astronauts and cosmonauts before and immediately following 180 days on the International Space Station (ISS). The findings show substantial loss of fibre mass, force and power in this muscle group. Unfortunately starting the journey in better physical condition did not help. Ironically, one of the study’s findings was that crew members who began with the biggest muscles also showed the greatest decline. (Physorg.com)

Muscles are not the only thing that deteriorates, as bones also weaken, in spite of the intense and vigorous exercise by astronauts.

While scientists could resort to special dieting to counter bone loss, humanity will need to come up with more innovative ways at preserver our muscle mass (outside of electrical shocks that is).

Despite our best laid plans, Mars is currently too far away to be reached safely by conventional rockets.

We may have to wait until VASIMR engines become a reality before we can dream of creating crimson foot prints in the near future.

(Image Credit: ADAM via MedlinePlus)

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Creating Gas On Mars

Posted by on Aug 16, 2010 in Mars, Science, Technology | 2 comments

While we often envision future Martian colonies powered by solar, steam or nuclear power, one aspect we often neglect is the human rated rovers that will be criss crossing the planet.

Fortunately it looks like technology developed on Earth may aid rover ranging explorers on Mars.

The idea is to use the sun to power chemical plants able to split carbon dioxide. Combine the resulting carbon monoxide with hydrogen and you have the beginnings of a solar fuel that could one day replace oil. […] Now, Konstandopoulos and colleagues have successfully used the same reactor technology and process to split carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide in the lab. Two reactors running simultaneously could generate hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which could be combined into synthetic fuel using one of two established chemical processes, says Konstandopoulos. In the Sabatier process the two gases are heated at high pressure in the presence of a nickel catalyst to produce methane or methanol, while in theFischer-Tropsch process an iron-based catalyst is used to generate liquid hydrocarbon fuels. (New Scientist)

Although scientists have already explored technology that could turn Martian air into fuel, it’s good to see others pursuing this idea on our home planet.

While the first Martian rovers carrying humans will probably be fully electric, over time we may see settlers transition to fuel based rovers (provided the economics converting Martian air support it).

Even though this technology would probably not replace fossil fuels on Earth (due to the cost and “ease” of extracting oil), it may help our fuel our descendants travels on our neighboring planet. (via Gizmodo)

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