Tag Archives: Mars

Can Mars’ Lost Atmosphere be fixed?

It has been illustrated exactly exactly how Mars lost it’s atmosphere due to the lack of magnetic field, of the kind that protects us here on Earth. This is a slightly gloomy discovery, not nearly so exciting and optimistic as the water announcement – but is there a way to mitigate this issue on a planetary scale? There may be an answer…

NASA did this with another one of their “We’ve got something really important to tell you on Thursday” events recently, and this time it wasn’t flowing water on Mars, but the fact that the MAVEN mission has been able to show how the solar wind has stripped Mars of its atmosphere over time.

This wasn’t a shock like flowing water, but it’s nonetheless a great piece of the puzzle, and as ever from NASA, accompanied by this nice clip below

This had always been a question for Mars colonisation enthusiasts – what is the virtue of terra-forming the planet if any ‘new’ atmosphere would simply be stripped away too. Mars is not just smaller at 53% the diameter, but also far less dense than Earth, only 10% of Earth’s mass. In addition, the outer core of Mars is believed to not be liquid as it is with Earth, and this loss of the dynamo creating the magnetic field is the reason why Mars lost it’s atmosphere, it’s oceans, and why it’s a bad candidate for terra-forming. How could this possibly be changed? There are plenty of sci-fi answers, like capturing and slamming asteroids into Mars, and trying to get the radioactive metals to the core, but is there actually something much-more real that can be done?

Research on the 1200 megajule generator at Los Alamos National Lab

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory’s biggest magnet facility have met the grand challenge of producing magnetic fields in excess of 100 tesla while conducting six different experiments. The hundred-tesla level is roughly equivalent to 2 million times Earth’s magnetic field.

So, is it perhaps conceivable that this technology might once day be constructed on Mars to protect humans from the ravages of the solar radiation, and allow thickening of the atmosphere?…it’s a tantalising thought, with a million fresh challenges, but it’d make a great movie!
Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-03-magnetic-field-hundred-tesla-goal.html#jCp

Europe’s Mission to Mars in 2016

EXOMARS is an exciting mission that’s happening sooner than you think, with a launch window now in March 2016. The mission, which is a joint venture with ESA and Roscosmos (the Russian space agency) will not only result in a presence in orbit around Mars taking measurements of atmospheric gases (potentially linked to present-day biological activity) but will also test landing capability on the red planet in advance of a more sophisticated landing mission, Exomars 2018.

Exomars ESA Rover, made and undergoing testing at Airbus, Stevenage UK, prior to its 2018 mission. Photo credit: Airbus Space and Defence
Exomars ESA Rover, made and undergoing testing at Airbus, Stevenage UK, prior to its 2018 mission. Photo credit: Airbus Space and Defence

The Schiaparelli module will separate from the orbiter and prove controlled landing technology to be used again with Exomars 2018. This mission will see the first European Rover on Mars, a robotic vehicle currently being tested at the Airbus facility near Stevenage in the UK. The analogue Martian surface is a large space at the Airbus Space centre near Stevenage, and it will continue use after the mission begins in order to be on hand to work out and resolve any challenges that may come toe rover’s way on Mars.

The collaboration between ESA and Roscosmos may seem to exist without a great deal of fanfare about the link-up between the two (are we in that post-political age?) but the deal is a far-reaching one, with ESA involvement in the proposed Luna25 manned Moon mission, the Russian connection could pay huge dividends to the European space program which it wouldn’t be achieving alone (and of course the same could be said for the Russians).

The 2016 mission is of course going to address the mystery Martian methane, and The Trace Gas Orbiter will also serve as a data relay asset for the 2018 rover mission of the ExoMars programme and until the end of 2022.

Ice House Wins NASA’s Mars 3D Printed Hab Challenge

The first-place award of $25,000 went to Team Space Exploration Architecture and Clouds Architecture Office of New York, New York, for their design, Ice House. Image Credit: SEArch/Clouds Architecture Office Read more at http://www.spaceflightinsider.com/space-flight-news/ice-house-wins-nasa-3-d-printed-habitat-challenge/#CoZFfM22xG3Aors5.99
The first-place award of $25,000 went to Team Space Exploration Architecture and Clouds Architecture Office of New York, New York, for their design, Ice House. Image Credit: SEArch/Clouds Architecture Office

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 Faire in New York on Sunday, September 27.

Over 165 submissions were made and 30 finalists had their designs displayed 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.”

3D Habitat Team Gamma Second place and $15,000 was awarded to Team Gamma for their habitat design. Image Credit: Team Gamma Read more at http://www.spaceflightinsider.com/space-flight-news/ice-house-wins-nasa-3-d-printed-habitat-challenge/#CoZFfM22xG3Aors5.99
3D Habitat Team Gamma Second place and $15,000 was awarded to Team Gamma for their habitat design. Image Credit: Team Gamma

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.

Team LavaHive was awarded third place honors for their Mars habitat design. Image Credit: Team LavaHive Read more at http://www.spaceflightinsider.com/space-flight-news/ice-house-wins-nasa-3-d-printed-habitat-challenge/#CoZFfM22xG3Aors5.99
Team LavaHive was awarded third place honors for their Mars habitat design. Image Credit: Team LavaHive

If you’re interested in Mars stuff, join the Mars Society in the US here and in the UK here or email [email protected]

Mars Society UK – New Chapter to be Formed

It’s been a while, but now we’re in a position to write a follow-up article regarding the Mars Society in the UK. In July we reported about the Mars Society in the UK ceasing to function as you might expect.

The Mars Society’s Utah analogue research station. Photo credit: The Mars Society






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.

Access the Sharp project from the Central Park Metro stop on the Oldham/Rochdale Line going north from the city centre.

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 Sharp Project where the inaugural meeting will take place. Credit: The Shapr Project, Manchester
The Sharp Project where the inaugural meeting will take place.
Credit: The Sharp Project, Manchester

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

Oregon State's rover  taking part in the Rover Challenge
Oregon State’s rover taking part in the Rover Challenge

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!
9 Real Technologies in Ridley Scott’s film The Martian

9 Real Technologies in Ridley Scott’s film The Martian

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…

  1. The Hab. 

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.

Credit: The Mars Society
Credit: 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.damaged GreenHab

Photo credit: NASA
Photo credit: NASA

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.

Credit: Giles Keyte/NASA
Credit: Giles Keyte/NASA

Then there are also these guys we’ve talked about a bit, Final Frontier Design

Credit: Final Frontier Design
Credit: Final Frontier Design

6. The Rover

Credit: NASA
Credit: NASA

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.

9. RTG

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

Edited by Rob Adlard

Can you Believe It – 50 Years of Mars Missions

Can you Believe It – 50 Years of Mars Missions

How old is ‘old’ technology?  How about 50 years old tech that went to Mars! can you believe it’s already been that long…surely a manned mission can’t take another 25…watch this great little film from NASA’s JPL