One of the challenges of sending humans to Mars is providing a habitat on the planet’s surface that will shield astronauts from radiation and extremely low temperatures. One strategy that has been proposed is 3-D printing a habitat out of materials available on Mars. Earlier this year, NASA’s Centennial Challenges program announced a 3-D habitat contest in conjunction with the industry group America Makes. NASA awarded prize money to the top three teams in the first stage of the 3-D Habitat Design Challenge at the World Maker Fairein New York on Sunday, September 27.
Over 165 submissions were made and 30 finalistshad their designsdisplayed and judged at the Maker Faire event. The $25,000 first prize was awarded to Team Space Exploration Architecture and Clouds Architecture Office for their design Ice House. Team Gamma won the second prize of $15,000 and also received the People’s Choice Award. Team LavaHive took third place.
“The creativity and depth of the designs we’ve seen have impressed us,” said Centennial Challenges Program Manager Monsi Roman. “These teams were not only imaginative and artistic with their entries, but they also really took into account the life-dependent functionality our future space explorers will need in an off-Earth habitat.”
Each of the top three designs took a different approach to utilizing materials available on Mars. All of the design would use robots in the construction process.
The Ice House design capitalized on the presence of water on Mars and persistent low temperatures at northern latitudes to create a pressurized, multi-layered radiation shell of ice that surrounds gardens and a lander habitat within. The translucent ice shell also allows in natural light.
Team Gamma’s design would employ a semi-autonomous, multi-robot regolith additive manufacturing (RAM) system to make a protective shield around a modular inflatable habitat. The habitat would be comprised of three inflatable dodecahedral modules.
Team LavaHive’s design combines a novel “lava-casting” technique with the use of recycled spacecraft materials and structured. The back shell of the Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) systems that will deliver the construction rovers to the surface will be used as the roof, with an inflatable module beneath as the primary living habitat.
The competition’s next phase is divided into two levels. The Structural Member Competition focuses on developing technologies needed to make structural components from indigenous materials and recyclables. The On-Site Habitat Competition will challenge teams to fabricate full-scale habitats. Both levels of the competition opened for registration on September 26 and each will award a cash prize of $1.1 million.
If you’re interested in Mars stuff, join the Mars Society in the US here and in the UK here or email [email protected]
If you’re an advocate of manned space missions, interested in Mars, astronomy, engineering, then the Mars Society is a great arena in which to digest and promote these topics with like-minded people. The Mars Society was created by Dr Robert Zubrin, and has the likes of Buzz Aldrin on its steering committee. See here for a reminder about what the Mars Society is about.
The Martian film is about to be released, we’re all waiting with baited breath until Monday to hear what stunning news NASA has to tell us about Mars, and we are now able to report that there will be a new Mars Society Chapter in the UK.
It’s inaugural meeting is taking place at 2pm on October 11th in Manchester at the Sharp Project just north of Manchester’s city centre. The venue is easily accessible from the M60, and details of location can be found here.
The existing situation had reached a point where it was unclear whether people were members of the society or not. No meetings were taking place, no AGM’s had taken place, in fact no discernible activity of any kind. This contrasts greatly with activity, not just of the Mars Society in it’s home of the USA, but also other chapters around the world, and in Europe. Take for example the Polish Mars
Society. There is huge amount going on in Poland, and indeed in other European countries, from hosting conferences and events, to the Rover Challenge: in other words, they are carrying out the work of the Mars Society.
You can visit the page for this new chapter at their Facebook group here. The group seems to have good ideas, and to be keen to follow the example of successful and dynamic societies from elsewhere, focusing on events, activity, and connections with research. Their page description says says
“This chapter of the Mars Society is based in Manchester simply because it’s principal founding officers are based there. Although meetings will take place in Manchester, the scope of the society is to engage people from anywhere, individuals and universities, to spread awareness of the Mars Society, Mars Direct, and the activities of the society in general.”
Sounds good to us! The founders of this new chapter are also keen to make the point that the chapter will be properly constituted, and the constitution adhered to with regular meetings, AGM’s, and a group of society officers. ” We’d love to hear from people who’d like to get involved.” says Rob Adlard, one of the new chapter’s founders “We’ve got a new website on the way, but people can contact us via the Facebook group until then.”
We contacted the Mars Society in the US, and Lucinda Offer, Executive Director of the Mars Society US had this to say
“The Mars Society U.S. is pleased to hear about the establishment of a new chapter in Manchester, England. We look forward to working with the new group to help expand Mars advocacy in the UK and encourage collaboration between the chapters in Manchester, London and Scotland”
So this is sort of an interesting idea, we’ll have to see where that goes. One of the stated aims of this new society is to develop a Rover Challenge. This is a great way to engage universities, develop student societies and wider engagement in the Mars Society.
You’d think that with the increase in funding and interest in the UK space sector, and the excellence of UK Universities in the areas of electronics, engineering and robotics, that the UK could have one of the most dynamic Mars Society chapters in the world.
Another founding member of the new chapter, Rob Astbury, commented that
“One of the original points of frustration was seeing UK universities exhibiting robotics programs at venues such as the UK Space Conference, knowing that none of them were engaged with anything like the Rover Challenge. Contrasting the high levels of engagement with European and US universities so actively involved in this kind of thing, it just seemed a shame that there is nothing like this currently in the UK. This is something we want to change, and would encourage anyone with uni connections to contact us to get involved”
The new chapter has lots of potential collaborators in the many excellent universities within a stones throw of their location for a start, and should get to know people like the Northern Robotics Network. Good luck to them!
Andy Wier’s great novel The Martian has been made into a blockbusting film, starring Matt Damon, and directed by Teesside’s own Ridley Scott (studied Art in my hometown of Hartlepool Ed). The film is due out in the UK in November, but it’s a great read too.
One of the reasons this particular story (of the many great stories about Mars) is so engaging, is that it transports you to a believable world, an experience so nearly within our grasp that you can taste it. This is achieved by reference to lots of things we already know about, and technologies that already exist. Let’s take a look at a few…
On the surface of Mars, Watney spends a significant amount of time in the habitation module — the Hab — his home away from home. Future astronauts who land on Mars will need such a home to avoid spending their Martian sols lying on the dust in a spacesuit.
At NASA Johnson Space Center, crews train for long-duration deep space missions in the Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA). Not only does NASA have this tech, but this kind of analogue research is also the domain of the Mars Society.
2. The Plant Farm
Watney turns the Hab into a self-sustaining farm in “The Martian,” making potatoes the first Martian staple. Today, in low-Earth orbit, lettuce is the most abundant crop in space. Aboard the International Space Station, Veggie is a deployable fresh-food production system. Using red, blue, and green lights, Veggie helps plants grow in pillows, small bags with a wicking surface containing media and fertilizer, to be harvested by astronauts. In 2014, astronauts used the system to grow “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce and just recently sampled this space-grown crop for the first time. This is a huge step in space farming, and NASA is looking to expand the amount and type of crops to help meet the nutritional needs of future astronauts on Mars. This is also an area of analogue research for The Mars Society, and we recently posted a plea for help fundraising which saw their Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign reach their target to re-build their GreenHab after a fire.
3. Water Recovery
There are no lakes, river or oceans on the surface of Mars, and sending water from Earth would take more than nine months. Astronauts on Mars must be able to create their own water supply. The Ares 3 crew does not waste a drop on Mars with their water reclaimer, and Watney needs to use his ingenuity to come up with some peculiar ways to stay hydrated and ensure his survival on the Red Planet.
On the International Space Station, no drop of sweat, tears, or even urine goes to waste. The Environmental Control and Life Support System recovers and recycles water from everywhere: urine, hand washing, oral hygiene, and other sources. Through the Water Recovery System (WRS), water is reclaimed and filtered, ready for consumption. One astronaut simply put it, “Yesterday’s coffee turns into tomorrow’s coffee.”
4. Oxygen Generation
Food, water, shelter: three essentials for survival on Earth. But there’s a fourth we don’t think about much, because it’s freely available: oxygen. On Mars, Watney can’t just step outside for a breath of fresh air To survive, he has to carry his own supply of oxygen everywhere he goes. But first he has to make it. In his Hab he uses the “oxygenator,” a system that generates oxygen using the carbon dioxide from the MAV (Mars Ascent Vehicle) fuel generator.
On the International Space Station, the astronauts and cosmonauts have the Oxygen Generation System, which reprocesses the atmosphere of the spacecraft to continuously provide breathable air efficiently and sustainably. The system produces oxygen through a process called electrolysis, which splits water molecules into their component oxygen and hydrogen atoms. The oxygen is released into the atmosphere, while the hydrogen is either discarded into space or fed into the Sabatier System, which creates water from the remaining byproducts in the station’s atmosphere.
Oxygen is produced at more substantial rate through a partially closed-loop system that improves the efficiency of how the water and oxygen are used. NASA is working to recover even more oxygen from byproducts in the atmosphere to prepare for the journey to Mars.
5. Mars Spacesuit
Mark Watney spends large portions of his Martian sols (a sol is a Martian day) working in a spacesuit. He ends up having to perform some long treks on the surface, so his suit has to be flexible, comfortable, and reliable.
NASA is currently developing the technologies to build a spacesuit that would be used on Mars. Engineers consider everything from traversing the Martian landscape to picking up rock samples.
The Z-2 and Prototype eXploration Suit, NASA’s new prototype spacesuits, help solve unique problems to advance new technologies that will one day be used in a suit worn by the first humans to set foot on Mars. Each suit is meant to identify different technology gaps – features a spacesuit may be missing – to complete a mission. Spacesuit engineers explore the tradeoff between hard composite materials and fabrics to find a nice balance between durability and flexibility.
One of the challenges of walking on Mars will be dealing with dust. The red soil on Mars could affect the astronauts and systems inside a spacecraft if tracked in after a spacewalk. To counter this, new spacesuit designs feature a suitport on the back, so astronauts can quickly hop in from inside a spacecraft while the suit stays outside, keeping it clean indoors.
Once humans land on the surface of Mars, they must stay there for more than a year, while the planets move into a position that will minimize the length of their trip home. This allows the astronauts plenty of time to conduct experiments and explore the surrounding area, but they won’t want to be limited to how far they can go on foot. Astronauts will have to use robust, reliable and versatile rovers to travel farther.
In “The Martian,” Watney takes his rover for quite a few spins, and he even has to outfit the vehicle with some unorthodox modifications to help him survive.
On Earth today, NASA is working to prepare for every encounter with the Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV). The MMSEV has been used in NASA’s analog mission projects to help solve problems that the agency is aware of and to reveal some that may be hidden. The technologies are developed to be versatile enough to support missions to an asteroid, Mars, its moons and other missions in the future. NASA’s MMSEV has helped address issues like range, rapid entry/exit and radiation protection. Some versions of the vehicle have six pivoting wheels for maneuverability. In the instance of a flat tire, the vehicle simply lifts up the bad wheel and keeps on rolling.
7. Ion Propulsion
In “The Martian,” the Ares 3 crew lives aboard the Hermes spacecraft for months as they travel to and from the Red Planet, using ion propulsion as an efficient method of traversing through space for over 280 million miles. Ion propulsion works by electrically charging a gas such as argon or xenon and pushing out the ions at high speeds, about 200,000 mph. The spacecraft experiences a force similar to that of a gentle breeze, but by continuously accelerating for several years, celestial vessels can reach phenomenal speeds. Ion propulsion also allows the spacecraft to change its orbit multiple times, then break away and head for another distant world.
This technology allows modern day spacecraft like NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft to minimize fuel consumption and perform some crazy maneuvers. Dawn has completed more than five years of continuous acceleration for a total velocity change around 25,000 mph, more than any spacecraft has accomplished on its own propulsion system. Along the way, it has paid humanity’s first visits to the dwarf planet Ceres and the asteroid Vesta.
8. Solar Panels
In the film, Matt Damon is constantly re-arranging solar panels to stay alive.
On the International Space Station, four sets of solar arrays generate 84 to 120 kilowatts of electricity – enough to power more than 40 homes. The station doesn’t need all that power, but the redundancy helps mitigate risk in case of a failure. The solar power system aboard the space station is very reliable, and has been providing power safely to the station since its first crew in 2000.
Orion, NASA’s spacecraft that will take humans farther than they’ve ever gone before, will use solar arrays for power in future missions. The arrays can gather power while in sunlight to charge onboard lithium-ion batteries. In case no sunlight is available – for instance, if Orion were to go behind the Moon – there would still be plenty of power to allow it to operate.
For more than four decades, NASA has safely used Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators(RTGs) to provide electrical power for two dozen space missions, including Apollo missions to the Moon. Spacecraft such as the Mars rover Curiosity and the upcoming Mars 2020 rover use an updated, next-generation model for electrical power.
RTGs are “space batteries” that convert heat from the natural radioactive decay of plutonium-238 into reliable electrical power. The RTG on Curiosity generates about 110 Watts of power or less – slightly more than an average light bulb uses.
In “The Martian,” the crew buries the plutonium-based RTG power source for the Mars Ascent Vehicle far away from the Hab in case of radioactive leakage. To prevent any leak, as suggested in the movie, Plutonium-238 has several layers of strong, advanced materials that protect against release even in severe accidents. The RTG mostly emits alpha radiation, which can only travel a few inches in the air and does not penetrate clothing or human skin. It could only affect human health if it were broken into very fine particles or vaporized, and inhaled or ingested. The isotope is manufactured in a ceramic form, so accidentally inhaling or ingesting it is unlikely, particularly as it does not dissolve in liquids.
In reality, the natural radiation environment on Mars is more extreme than the radiation produced from an RTG. Ionizing radiation raining down on Mars from space is far more hazardous to human health. Current Mars missions are analyzing the Martian radiation environment so that mission planners can design protection systems for future astronauts.
Future explorers will need assured, reliable and durable power sources for survival in place before they arrive. Power system options might include a mix of more efficient radioisotope power systems, solar power, fuel cells, and nuclear fission.
Originally for Spaceflightuk.com with information from NASA and the Glenn Research Centre, Cleveland
This blog want to promote all activities that lead to new projects and space exploration. These days, Crowdfunding is one of the important facilitators for these projects, and time is running out to help the Mars Society raise the funds to re-build their fire-damaged GreenHab at their desert research station. With only 5 days to go in their campaign, time is running out, but you can help by visiting here
The Mars Society was created by Dr Robert Zubrin in order to promote the possibility of the Mars Direct mission to Mars, created by Zubrin and others in the light of the failure for NASA to put together an affordable manned Mars mission. The organisation carries out analogue research into the facilities and technologies needed for a Mars base.
Damaged by fire, the Mars Society in the US is raising funds, with a target of $10,000 to repair and re-build the GreenHab. If you’re wondering why I keep saying the Mars Society US, it’s because there was a UK Chapter of the Mars Society which seems to have gone through a period of hibernation, we wrote about this in an earlier post, however the work the Mars Society in the US does is important and very much worthy of your support.
This blog is obviously a BIG fan of The Mars Society, and so it’s frustrating that the UK chapter of the society seems to be inactive – it’s surely not because of a lack of interest from followers?
There clearly isn’t anything happening – people are paying subscription without ever hearing anything from the UK society, and the UK chapter’s website hasn’t had an update since 2013. On Facebook, confusingly there are two groups, again, the larger group with 920 ‘likes’ hasn’t really seen updates since 2013, while a smaller group with 252 followers is being kept alive in some way at least by posts by active communications boss at The Mars Society, Mike Stoltz.
What a shame! It seems like bad timing, with interest in spaceflight, and Mars, reaching an all-time high, and the UK Space Conference 2015 upon us, it seems like such a significant organisation with such a following should be doing something at least…
Initially when I contacted the The Mars Society (US) the response was quite dismissive, but Mike Stoltz Comms Director is aware of the issue and had taken the time to write and say he was looking into it, and contacting the relevant people. Running organisations with volunteers is never easy, and there can be all kinds of breaks in communication and activity. However, it’s a dreadful situation to be in where an organisation is accepting donations without even an acknowledgement – whatever the difficulties of dealing with volunteers and online communities, it’s certainly no way to grow the positive and exciting message and work that The Mars Society does.
Let’s hope something changes soon, there’s simply too much interest in this exciting topic for there to simply be nothing going on in the UK. If The Mars Society doesn’t get it together, then there’ll be another organisation which can be created to draw together the research, academia and enthusiasts in the UK. C’mon guys!
Mars Direct was Robert Zubrin’s response to the bloated (and subsequently scrapped) Mars mission plans from NASA. Mars Direct was a project Zubrin essentially created with the backing of Lockheed Martin, and then went on to be the catalyst for the creation of The Mars Society. One of the original voices, of which there are now a growing number, claiming that existing technology could provide a manned Mars mission, the Mars Society now exists to gradually prove his plans to be correct.
Mars Direct (Summary)
Mars Direct is a sustained humans-to-Mars plan developed by Dr. Robert Zubrin that advocates a minimalist, live-off-the-land approach to exploring the planet Mars, allowing for maximum results with minimum investment. Using existing launch technology and making use of the Martian atmosphere to generate rocket fuel, extracting water from the Martian soil and eventually using the abundant mineral resources of the Red Planet for construction purposes, the plan drastically lowers the amount of material which must be launched from Earth to Mars, thus sidestepping the primary stumbling block to space exploration and rapidly accelerating the timetable for human exploration of the solar system.
The general outline of Mars Direct is simple. In the first year of implementation, an Earth Return Vehicle (ERV) is launched to Mars, arriving six months later. Upon landing on the surface, a rover is deployed that contains the nuclear reactors necessary to generate rocket fuel for the return trip. After 13 months, a fully-fueled ERV will be sitting on the surface of Mars.
During the next launch window, 26 months after the ERV was launched, two ore craft are sent up: a second ERV and a habitat module (hab), the astronauts’ ship. This time the ERV is sent on a low-power trajectory, designed to arrive at Mars in eight months – so that it can land at the same site as the hab if the first ERV experiences any problems. Assuming that the first ERV works as planned, the second ERV is landed at a different site, thus opening up another area of Mars for exploration by the next crew.
After a year and a half on the Martian surface, the first crew returns to Earth, leaving behind the hab, the rovers associated with it and any ongoing experiments conducted there. They land on Earth six months later to a hero’s welcome, with the next ERV/hab already on course for the Red Planet. With two launches during each launch window – one ERV and one hab – more and more of Mars will be opened to human exploration. Eventually multiple habs can be sent to the same site and linked together, allowing for the beginning of a permanent human settlement on the planet Mars.