Establishing a human settlement on Mars has been the fevered dream of space agencies for some time. Long before NASA announced its “Journey to Mars” – a plan that outlined the steps that need to be taken to mount a manned mission by the 2030s – the agency’s was planning how a crewed mission could lead to the establishing of stations on the planet’s surface. And it seems that in the coming decades, this could finally become a reality.
But when it comes to establishing a permanent colony – another point of interest when it comes to Mars missions – the coming decades might be a bit too soon. Such was the message during a recent colloquium hosted by NASA’s Future In-Space Operations (FISO) working group. Titled “Selecting a Landing Site for Humans on Mars”, this presentation set out the goals for NASA’s manned mission in the coming decades.
It won’t be long before we start to get the technical details of Inspiration Mars’ daring proposition to send a married couple on a round-trip journey to the Red Planet. The private organization, along with the Mars Society, announced that 38 teams have expressed an intention to participate in a design competition that will see public presentations this spring.
A full list of the university groups is available here, with 56 post-secondary institutions represented from 15 countries (the United States, Canada, Russia, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Poland, Mauritius, India, Bangladesh, Japan and Colombia.)
“We want to engage the explorers of tomorrow with a real and exciting mission, and demonstrate what a powerful force space exploration can be in inspiring young people to develop their talent. This contest will accomplish both of those objectives,” stated Dennis Tito, who is Inspiration Mars executive director.
Now that the teams are announced, their next job is to submit the actual proposals. Design reports are due March 15. Once the top 10 are selected, those teams will go to the NASA Ames Research Center to make public presentations and compete in April 2014. Six judges will be drawn equally from the Mars Society, Inspiration Mars and NASA.
CORRECTION: This article has been updated after more information was received from Inspiration Mars. Tito was highlighting other countries’ interest in the Red Planet in his testimony and has no plans at this time to work with anyone but NASA.
Remember that proposal to send a couple in the direction of the Red Planet, loop around it and then come back to Earth? The founder of the Inspiration Mars project, Dennis Tito, outlined more details of his proposal before the House Science Subcommittee on Space yesterday (Nov. 20).
Inspiration Mars has released an Architecture Study Report that is the fruits of a 90-day study done not only by the foundation itself, but also working with “NASA centers and industry partners” to figure out the best way to launch humans there in late 2017 or 2018. But if it’s delayed, Tito is prepared to go to Russia or China instead, he warns.
Here’s the high-level summary:
Two launches using NASA’s forthcoming Space Launch System, one for cargo and one for crew;
The crew module would be from the crew transportation vehicle that NASA selected under its commercial crew program (see this Universe Today story yesterday for an update on funding concerns on that program);
The cargo and crew vehicles would dock in space and then head out to Mars.
“Given Russia’s clear recognition of the value and prestige of accomplishments in human space exploration, and their long-time interest in exploring Mars, my personal belief is that in all likelihood the Energia super-heavy rocket revival announcement signals Russian intent to fly this mission in 2021,” Tito stated.
“Their heavy lift rocket, along with their other designs for modules and the Soyuz, can fly this mission with modest upgrades to their systems.”
A third option would be using Chinese capabilities, he added, The Chinese may also be interested, he said, because the country — reportedly developing a large space station of its own — is likely “contemplating this opportunity to be the first on Mars.” Tito said he is informing Congress of his plans to go elsewhere as a “civic duty”, and that he wants to give NASA the first shot.
More food for thought as Congress mulls how much money to allocate to NASA in fiscal 2014. And Tito had strong words about his feelings on the funding: “If I may offer a frank word of caution to this subcommittee: The United States will carry out a Mars flyby mission, or we will watch as others do it – leaving us to applaud their skill and their daring.”
Doesn’t that look fun? A startup company is proposing to send customers 19 miles (30 kilometers) into the air via balloon, where they can linger for two hours and look at the curvature of the Earth and experience a black sky. While it’s not high enough to qualify as a spaceflight, the listed ticket price may be a little more affordable for space enthusiasts: $75,000.
Don’t get too excited yet — the project appears to be in very early stages, and no “first flight” date is listed yet. But there are some interesting notes for those looking for space and science experience in the company.
The executive also includes Jane Poynter and Taber MacCallum, who were both members of Biosphere 2. More recently, they also took on senior positions in Inspiration Mars, a Dennis Tito-led project that aims to send humans past Mars. (The target launch date for that is Jan. 5, 2018.)
The company proposing to build it is Paragon Space Development Corp. (which Poynter and MacCallum co-founded.) Paragon’s customers for thermal, environment and life support systems include a lot of name brands (including NASA). Paragon is also doing work for the Inspiration Mars project as well as Mars One, which aims to send colonists on a one-way trip to the Red Planet by 2023.
“Seeing the Earth hanging in the ink-black void of space will help people realize our connection to our home planet and to the universe around us, and will surely offer a transformative experience to our customers,” stated Poynter, who is CEO of World View. “It is also our goal to open up a whole new realm for exercising human curiosity, scientific research and education.”
World View’s announcement came after the Federal Aviation Administration “determined that World View’s spacecraft and its operations fall under the jurisdiction of the office of Commercial Space Flight,” the company added.
More information on their mission is available on the World View website. It’s a bit of a different track than Virgin Galactic and XCOR, who are offering rides into suborbital space for prices of $250,000 and $95,000, respectively. Neither company has an operational spacecraft yet, but they are in flight testing. Reports indicate they are hoping to get flights going next year.
Millionaire and space tourist Dennis Tito announced his plans for funding a commercial mission to Mars, and the mission will send two professional crew members – one man and one woman who will likely be a married couple – flying as private citizens on a “fast, free-return” mission, passing within 100 miles of Mars before swinging back and safely returning to Earth. The spacecraft will likely be tinier than a small Winnebago recreational vehicle. Target launch date is Jan. 5, 2018.
That date was picked because of the unique window of opportunity when the planets align for a 501-day mission to Mars and back.
“If we don’t seize the moment we might miss the chance to become a multi-planet species,” said journalist Miles O’Brien, who introduced the Inspiration Mars team at a webcast announcing the mission, “and if we don’t do that, one day humanity might cease to exist.”
Tito said there are lots of reasons to not to do a mission like this, “but sometimes you just have to lift anchor shove off. We need to stop being timid… Our goal is to send two people but take everyone along for the ride.”
Tito has started a new nonprofit organization, the Inspiration Mars Foundation, “to pursue the audacious to provide a platform for unprecedented science, engineering and education opportunities, while reaching out to American youth to expand their visions of their own futures in space exploration,” said a statement released by the Foundation.
Tito said this will be an American mission, not international.
The mission will be built around “proven, existing space transportation systems and technologies derived from industry, NASA and the International Space Station that can be available in time to support the launch date.”
Inspiration Mars has signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA, specifically the Ames Research Center (Ames), to conduct thermal protection system and technology testing and evaluation, as well as tapping into NASA’s knowledge, experience and technologies.
“We went to NASA and said we don’t want money, but want to partner with you for certain technologies,” said said Taber MacCallum, chief technology officer for Inspiration Mars. MacCallum is also CEO/CTO of Paragon Space Development Corporation, and was a member of the Biosphere 2 Design, Development, Test & Operations team, and a crew member in the first two-year mission. “NASA had a tremendous can-do spirit about this, and we are thrilled to be working with them.”
Here’s look at the mechanics of the free return trajectory:
The profile of the mission means once it launches, there’s no way to abort.
Tito said the mission will engage “the best minds in industry, government and academia to develop and integrate the space flight systems and to design innovative research, education and outreach programs for the mission. This low-cost, collaborative, philanthropic approach to tackling this dynamic challenge will showcase U.S. innovation at its best and benefit all Americans in a variety of ways.”
Inspiration Mars will also offer educational programs to inspire children.
“It is important that it is a man and a woman going on this mission because they represent humanity,” said Jane Poynter, also with Paragon and Inspiration Mars, who is married to MacCallum, and together they were part of the Biosphere-2 project. “But more importantly, it represents our children, because whether they are a boy or a girl, they will see themselves in this mission. Inspiration is the name of this mission and its mission.”
She said it would “challenge our children to live audacious lives,” and Inspiration Mars is partnering with several organizations to create educational programs.
Poynter said it would be important for the two astronauts to be married, to provide a “backbone of support for the crew psychologically.
“Imagine, it’s a really long road trip and you’re jammed into an RV and you can’t get out,” Poynter said. “There’s no microgravity … all you have to eat for over 500 days are 3,000 lbs of dehydrated food that they rehydrate with the same water over and over that will be recycled,” adding that the two crew will need the proven ability to be with each other for the long term.
But that segue ways into how the mission will be funded. While Tito will fund the mission exclusively for the next two years, beyond that it will be funded primarily through private, charitable donations, as well as government partners that can provide expertise, access to infrastructure and other technical assistance.
But media rights will be a big part of funding, Tito said. “I envision Dr. Phil talking to the husband-wife crew about marital problems on way to Mars,” he said.
But this is not a money-making endeavor, Tito said. “I won’t make any money on this – I’ll be a lot poorer after this mission.”
Speaking of money, one thing the Inspiration Mars team didn’t do at the briefing today was talk about how much the mission was going to cost. They said that whatever number they might quote today would probably end up being wrong. But they did say it would be a fraction of what the Curiosity rover mission cost, which is $2.5 billion.
The mission system will consist of a modified capsule launched out of Earth orbit using a single propulsive maneuver to achieve the Mars trajectory. An inflatable habitat module will be deployed after launch and detached prior to re-entry. Closed-loop life support and operational components will be located inside the vehicle, designed for simplicity and “hands-on” maintenance and repair.
Tito said the time is right for this mission, not only because of the orbital window of opportunity. “Investments in human space exploration technologies and operations by NASA and the space industry are converging at the right time to make this mission achievable,” he said.
Foundation officials are in talks with several U.S. commercial aerospace companies about prospective launch and crew vehicles and systems.
Asked about how they can possibly get a launch vehicle ready by 2018, Tito said, “The vehicles are there and we have time to get it together. I’m more concerned about the life support, the radiation and the re-entry systems.”
“Mars presents a challenging, but attainable goal for advancing human space exploration and knowledge, and as a result, we are committed to undertaking this mission,” MacCallum said. “Experts have reviewed the risks, rewards and aggressive schedule, finding that existing technologies and systems only need to be properly integrated, tested and prepared for flight.”
Tito explained that the “beauty of this mission is its simplicity.” The flyby architecture lowers risk, with no critical propulsive maneuvers after leaving Earth vicinity, no entry into the Mars atmosphere, no rendezvous and docking, and represents the shortest duration roundtrip mission to Mars. The 2018 launch opportunity also coincides with the 11-year solar minimum providing the lowest solar radiation exposure.