On March 21, President Donald Trump signed a new law that mandates NASA send people to Mars by 2033. Then, a week later, the space agency published its most detailed plan yet for reaching the red planet. The scheme is neither for the claustrophobic nor feint of heart: It involves locking astronauts into a tube-shaped spaceship, sending them into deep space for 3 years, and giving them no form of emergency escape beyond the moon. What’s more, astronauts would only orbit Mars in 2033; they’d never attempt a landing.
“By 2025 we expect new spacecraft designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first ever crew missions beyond the Moon into deep space,” President Obama said. “So, we’ll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history. By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to earth, and a landing on Mars will follow
In a House space subcommittee hearing, John Sommerer, a space scientist as chairman of a National Research Council technical panel reviewing NASA’s human spaceflight activities testified, “While sending humans to Mars, and returning them safely to the Earth, may be technically feasible, it is an extraordinarily challenging goal, from physiological, technical, and programmatic standpoints,”
“Because of this extreme difficulty, it is only with unprecedented cumulative investment, and, frankly, unprecedented discipline in development, testing, execution, and leadership, that this enterprise is likely to be successful.” According to Sommerer, the technical panel found that it would take NASA 20 to 40 years to send humans to the surface of Mars at a staggering cost of approximately half a trillion dollars.
NASA is not alone in having Mars Ambitions. Elon Musk, the founder of the rocket company SpaceX , recently said he plans to send people to Mars by 2022 . Boeing has also challenged SpaceX in beating the company to the red planet. Musk said he’s OK with this because all he wants to do is colonize Mars and protect humanity from self-imposed annihilation or a rogue asteroid.
Mars Base Camp is Lockheed Martin’s vision for sending humans to Mars by 2028. The concept is simple: transport astronauts from Earth to a Mars-orbiting science laboratory where they can perform real-time scientific exploration, analyze Martian rock and soil samples, and confirm the ideal place to land humans on the surface.
China is also preparing for ambitious mission to Mars in 2020 for “robotic and human settlement” on the mysterious planet. Zhang Rongqiao said China is seeking to become the first country to conduct joint orbital and surface exploration of Mars in a single mission. The probe will provide invaluable data on temperature, atmospheric conditions and landscape, before Beijing dispatches further missions to retrieve soil and rock samples.
Mr Zhang, the chief architect the mission, said the probe will be made up of three parts; orbiter, lander and rover. “The lander will separate from the orbiter at the end of a journey of around seven months and touch down in a low latitude area in the northern hemisphere of Mars where the rover will explore the surface,” said state news agency Xinhua.
China is building a 400-million-yuan ‘Mars simulation base’ in a remote area of its dry and rocky north-west to boost scientific research of the red planet and local tourism.
Lockheed Martin announces Mars ‘space base’ and will send humans there in 2028
Mars Base Camp is a concept for an orbiting science station envisioned to launch in 2028 that sets the stage for a human landing mission in the 2030s.
“We think that orbiting Mars is a necessary precursor to landing humans on the surface,”, told Popular Science. “We think that putting scientists with laboratories right there in Mars orbit will allow them, in just a few months, to accomplish more science than we’ve been able to accomplish in the past 40 years,” said Tony Antonelli, Lockheed Martin’s chief technologist for civil space exploration.
In theory, at least, the idea of sending an orbiter before a surface mission would let NASA flex its Mars muscles while buying crucial time to develop descent and landing technologies, says space policy expert John Logsdon of George Washington University.
“It gives one the opportunity to check out all navigation, life support, [and] radiation protection—all the things you need to get to Mars and back without also accepting the risks that come with going to the surface,” says Logsdon. “There are good parallels between Apollo 8 and Apollo 11.”
What’s more, a crewed orbiter would allow for real-time control of Mars rovers, a potentially huge help to scientists, who currently face up to 45-minute communications delays. An orbiting lab could also process samples robotically launched from Mars’s surface, helping future astronauts’ efforts and advancing the search for past—or present—Martian life.
According to Lockheed Martin, the Mars Base Camp concept is built on a strong foundation of today’s technologies – making it safe, affordable and achievable:
Orion: The world’s only deep-space crew capsule, built with deep space life support, communications and navigation. This is the mission Orion was born to do.
Space Launch System: Super heavy lift designed to send critical labs, habitats and supplies to Mars.
Habitats: Building on our NextSTEP research, deep space habitats will give astronauts room to live and work on the way to Mars.
Solar Electric Propulsion: Based on technology already in place on satellites, this advanced propulsion will pre-position key supplies in Mars orbit.
NASA confirms existence of water on MARS
NASA researchers using an imager aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter confirmed the watery flows by looking at light waves returned from seasonal dark streaks on the surface, long suspected to be associated with liquid water. NASA says it found proof of water in dark streaks like these, called recurring slope lineae, on the walls of the Garni Crater on Mars.
“The existence of liquid water, even if it is super salty briny water, gives the possibility that if there’s life on Mars, that we have a way to describe how it might survive,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA.
It remains to be seen whether the new discovery improves the odds of life on Mars, but researcher Mary Beth Wilhelm said the results suggest “more habitable conditions on the near surface of Mars than previously thought.” How habitable, she said, depends on how salty and how cold the conditions are.
NASA’s Three Phases Mars Journey
In its report titled “Journey to Mars: Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration,” the space agency laid out a three-stage program for developing the technology and logistics necessary to reach Mars and establish a sustainable colony on the planet’s surface.
NASA hasn’t officially scrapped its mission to use an asteroid as a stepping stone to Mars but it’s taking steps to chart a new approach that instead would rely on a spaceport circling the moon.
Deep Space Gateway and Deep Space Transport
Under a program dubbed Deep Space Gateway, agency officials said they still plan to use the lunar orbit as a staging platform to build and test the infrastructure and the systems needed to send astronauts to Mars. But instead of breaking off a chunk of asteroid and dragging it to the moon, NASA’s new plan calls for building an orbiting spaceport that could have even more uses.
The second phase of missions will confirm that the agency’s capabilities built for humans can perform long duration missions beyond the moon. For those destinations farther into the solar system, including Mars, NASA envisions a deep space transport spacecraft. This spacecraft would be a reusable vehicle that uses electric and chemical propulsion and would be specifically designed for crewed missions to destinations such as Mars. The transport would take crew out to their destination, return them back to the gateway, where it can be serviced and sent out again. The transport would take full advantage of the large volumes and mass that can be launched by the SLS rocket, as well as advanced exploration technologies being developed now and demonstrated on the ground and aboard the International Space Station.
The journey to Mars passes through three thresholds, each with increasing challenges as humans move farther from Earth. NASA and our partners are managing these challenges by developing and demonstrating capabilities in incremental steps.
Formidable challenges must be conquered before humans place the first boot print on Mars. For space exploration, some of the challenges are creating an environment for humans to live and work in space, navigating and traveling to distant locations, manufacturing products in space, landing on and departing from planetary surfaces, and quickly communicating between the Earth and space systems.
“Earth Reliant exploration is focused on research aboard the ISS. On the space station, we are testing technologies and advancing human health and performance research that will enable deep-space, long-duration missions.”
“Human health and behavioral research, Advanced communications systems, Material flammability tests, Extravehicular operations, Mars mission class environmental control and life support systems, 3-D printing, Material handling tests for in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) demonstrations”
In the Proving Ground, NASA will learn to conduct complex operations in a deep space environment that allows crews to return to Earth in a matter of days. Primarily operating in cislunar space, NASA will advance and validate capabilities required for human exploration of Mars.
- A series of Exploration Missions (EMs), starting with EM-1, the first integrated test of SLS and Orion, anticipated in 2018.
- The Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission in 2020 that will collect a large boulder from a near-Earth asteroid, then ferry it to the Proving Ground and the Asteroid Redirect Crew Mission that will allow astronauts to investigate and sample the asteroid boulder
- An initial deep-space habitation facility for long-duration systems testing Autonomous operations, including rendezvous and docking and state of the art information technology solutions
- Concepts to minimize resupply needs through reduction, reuse, and recycling of consumables, packaging, and materials
- Other key operational capabilities required to become Earth Independent
Earth Independent activities build on what we learn on ISS and in cislunar space to enable human missions to the Mars vicinity, including the Martian moons, and eventually the Martian surface. With humans on Mars, we will be able to advance science and technology in ways only dreamed of with current robotic explorers. Future Mars missions will represent a collaborative effort among NASA and its partners—a global achievement that marks a transition in humanity’s expansion as we go to Mars not just to visit, but to stay.
- Living and working within transit and surface habitats that support human life for years, with only routine maintenance
- Harvesting Martian resources to create fuel, water, oxygen, and building materials
- Leveraging advanced communication systems to relay data and results from science and exploration excursions with a 20-minute delay
Evolvable Mars Campaign (EMC)
The Evolvable Mars Campaign (EMC) is NASA’s on-going series of architectural trade analyses that defines the capabilities and elements needed for a sustainable human presence on Mars. The goal is to define a pioneering strategy and operational capabilities that can extend and sustain human presence in the solar system including a human journey to explore the Mars system starting in the mid-2030s.
The promising new technology candidates that will help NASA achieve its extraordinary missions are identified in the 2015 NASA Technology Roadmaps. The 2015 NASA Technology Roadmaps are comprised of 16 sections: Crosscutting Technologies, and Index; and 15 distinct Technology Area (TA) roadmaps.
Technology Area (TA) roadmaps
TA 1: Launch Propulsion Systems addresses technologies that enhance existing solid or liquid propulsion technologies or their related ancillary systems. The overall goals of TA 1 technology candidates are to make access to space—specifically low-Earth orbit (LEO)—more reliable, routine, and cost effective.
TA 2: In-Space Propulsion Technologies addresses the development of higher-power electric propulsion, nuclear thermal propulsion, and cryogenic chemical propulsion. Improvements derived from technology candidates within this TA will decrease transit times, increase payload mass, provide safer spacecraft, and decrease costs.
TA 3: Space Power and Energy Storage addresses technology developments to produce power systems with significant mass and volume reductions, increased efficiency, and capability for operation across a broad temperature range and in intense radiation environments. Technology advances in space power and energy storage offer significant benefits to spacecraft, launch vehicles, landers, rovers, spacesuits, tools, habitats, communication networks, and anything that requires power and energy.
TA 4: Robotics and Autonomous Systems will play a key role in the surveying, observation, extraction, and close examination of planetary surfaces, their natural phenomena, their terrain composition, and their resources. For human exploration, the goal is to leverage robots in all phases: as precursor explorers that precede crewed missions, as crew helpers in space, and as caretakers of assets left behind.
TA 5: Communications, Navigation, and Orbital Debris Tracking and Characterization. NASA’s space communications and navigation infrastructure provides the means of transferring commands, spacecraft telemetry, mission data, and voice for human exploration missions, while maintaining accurate timing and providing navigation support. Advancements in communications and navigation technologies will allow future missions to implement new and more capable science instruments, greatly enhance human missions beyond Earth orbit, and enable entirely new mission concepts.
TA 6: Human Health, Life Support, and Habitation Systems focuses on developing technologies that enable long-duration, deep-space human exploration with minimal resupply consumables and increased independence from Earth, within permissible space radiation exposure limits. For future crewed missions beyond low-Earth orbit (LEO) and into the solar system, regular resupply of consumables and emergency or quick-return options will not be feasible, and spacecraft will experience a more challenging radiation environment in deep space than in LEO.
TA 7: Human Exploration Destination Systems TA 7 Systems covers the broad range of technology candidates associated with enabling successful human activities in space, from missions operations to in-situ resource utilization. All TA 7 goals relate to sustaining human presence in space, which will require existing systems and vehicles to become more independent, incorporate intelligent autonomous operations, and take advantage of the local resources.
TA 8: Science Instruments, Observatories, and Sensor Systems. The technologies for TA 8 allow information to be gathered about Earth’s atmosphere, space, and other planets. TA 8 technologies are organized into remote sensing instruments and sensors, observatories, and in-situ instruments and sensors. These technologies are necessary to collect and process scientific data, to provide crucial knowledge to enable robotic missions such as remote surveys of Martian geology to identify optimal landing sites.
TA 9: Entry, Descent, and Landing technologies support NASA’s goal to send humans to the surface of Mars. The key performance characteristics that EDL technology developments will target are landed mass, reliability, cost, landing site elevation, and landing accuracy.
TA 10: Nanotechnology. Areas where nanotechnologies have the greatest potential to impact NASA mission needs include: reduced vehicle mass; improved functionality and durability; enhanced power generation and energy storage; increased propulsion performance; improved astronaut health management; and higher-efficiency advanced electronics and sensors.
TA 11: Modeling, Simulation, Information Technology, and Processing focuses on advances in foundational capabilities for flight computing and ground computing; physics-based and data-driven modeling, simulation, and software development; and information and data processing frameworks, systems, and standards.
TA 12: Materials, Structures, Mechanical Systems, and Manufacturing. Materials are the enablers behind the structures, devices, vehicles, power, life support, propulsion, entry, and many other systems that NASA develops and uses to fulfill its missions. NASA’s vision to extend exploration into deep space requires challenging structural innovation. Mechanism systems are essential to performing the functions required at virtually every stage of spaceflight operations in order to achieve specified mission objectives. Advanced manufacturing capabilities are required for significant improvements in cost, schedule, and overall performance.
TA 13: Ground and Launch Systems. The primary goal of ground and launch system technologies is to provide the launch capability required to enable exploration while reducing operations and maintenance costs by 50%, and achieving a 50% reduction in ground safety mishaps, process escapes, and close calls.
TA 14: Thermal Management Systems maintain temperatures of a sensor, component, instrument, spacecraft, or space facility within the required temperature limits, regardless of the external environment or the thermal loads imposed from operations.
TA 15: Aeronautics. The NASA Aeronautics research strategy is to develop and demonstrate revolutionary technologies that enable global air transportation that is safer, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly for the next 30 years and beyond.
Cross cutting technologies are the technologies that cut across many technology areas
Autonomous Systems and Artificial Intelligence
Autonomy is a critical crosscutting technology for improving the performance and reducing the risks for a wide range of NASA human exploration, robotic, and aeronautics applications. As exploration missions take humans deeper into space, autonomous systems will be needed to enable astronauts and their vehicles to function effectively and efficiently when operating independently of ground control.
Avionics are electronic systems at the center of the command, control, and monitoring capabilities, including electronics for spaceflight instrumentation, communications, tracking, and human interfaces.
Long-duration crewed missions, space-based observatories, and solar system exploration will require highly reliable, fault-tolerant avionic systems. Communication delays, the challenging orbital dynamics of Near-Earth Asteroids, and extreme science missions require increased autonomy for on-board decision infrastructures.
All human exploration missions require space suits, either for occupant protection during dynamic flight phases and crew survivability during off-nominal events or to facilitate Extravehicular Activities (EVAs) for exploration and repair operations outside of a space vehicle. Space suits are, in effect, miniature human form-fitting spacecraft, containing many of the systems common to a spacecraft, such as life support, thermal control, avionics, power distribution and energy storage, impact protection, propulsion, and communications.
Over the next decade, IT will be critical to the success of NASA’s long-duration missions. Technology advances in data management and communications, artificial intelligence, statistics, instrumentation, scalable cyber infrastructures, visualization, and analysis algorithms are needed to support data-intensive operations and Agency objectives. Automated corruption detection or self-healing for massive or rapidly generated database are essential to NASA’s Big Data support.
In-Situ Resource Utilization
Any program to extend human presence and operations on extraterrestrial bodies requires that we learn how to utilize the indigenous resources. The purpose of In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) is to locate, harness, and utilize resources (both natural and discarded material) at the site of exploration to create products and services for subsequent use. Potential space resources include water/ice, solar wind implanted volatiles (hydrogen, helium, carbon, nitrogen, etc.), metals and minerals, atmospheric constituents, solar energy, regions of permanent light and darkness, trash and waste from human crew, and discarded hardware that has completed its primary purpose.
After more than 50 years of human space activities, orbital debris has become a serious problem in the near-Earth environment. As of 2015, the total mass of debris in orbit has exceeded 6,000 tons.
Some of the technology areas needed to address the orbital debris challenge are Radar, optical, and in-situ measurements to better characterize the orbital debris population from large (>10 centimeters (cm)) to small (< 0.1 millimeter (mm)) and from low-Earth orbit (LEO) to geostationary orbit (GEO). Others are modeling of the current and future orbital debris environment, modeling of satellite explosions and collisions and the fragment mass, density, and shape distributions and modeling of object reentry survivability assessments.
Radiation and Space Weather
Deep-space and long-duration missions, where both crew members and spacecraft no longer benefit from the protection of Earth’s magnetic fields, are considered high risk for adverse radiation impacts. Long term exposure of astronauts to radiation is problematic and the effect that space radiation has on spacecraft electronics and software is equally challenging. The ability to predict space radiation events and protect both human and human-built systems from these events is of crucial interest to NASA in order to explore space beyond low-Earth orbit.
Sensors are devices that respond to external stimuli, such as motion, heat, or light, and respond in a particular way to convert the stimuli into a measurable quantity such as an analog or digital representation. In order to conduct science missions—whether in-situ on a planetary surface or remotely from orbiting satellites and probes—NASA’s scientists need sensors of all types.
Some examples include flow sensors, which are required for the proper operation of a rocket motor, chemical sensors to detect hazardous chemical leaks on the International Space Station (ISS), and thin film sensors that operate in harsh environments for surface measurement in aeronautics propulsion system research.
Thermal Protection Systems
Thermal Protection Systems (TPS) protect spacecraft from extremely high temperatures and heating during all mission phases, and are very often low-to-no-fault-tolerant, critical systems that constitute a significant mass fraction of spacecraft. TPS technologies require exotic materials and structures necessary for reentry and propulsion systems, and high-temperature sensors and electronics for health monitoring and communication through plasma during reentry.