A Magnetohydrodynamic Drive Could Lead to Fuel Stations on Mars

Graphic depiction of Magnetohydrodynamic Drive for Hydrogen and Oxygen Production in Mars Transfer. Credit: Alvaro Romero-Calvo

Within the next fifteen years, NASA, China, and SpaceX plan to send the first crewed missions to Mars. In all three cases, these missions are meant to culminate in the creation of surface habitats that will allow for many returns and – quite possibly – permanent human settlements. This presents numerous challenges, one of the greatest of which is the need for plenty of breathable air and propellant. Both can be manufactured through electrolysis, where electromagnetic fields are applied to water (H2O) to create oxygen gas (O2) and liquid hydrogen (LH2).

While Mars has ample deposits of water ice on its surface that make this feasible, existing technological solutions fall short of the reliability and efficiency levels required for space exploration. Fortunately, a team of researchers from Georgia Tech has proposed a “Magnetohydrodynamic Drive for Hydrogen and Oxygen Production in Mars Transfer” that combines multiple functionalities into a system with no moving parts. This system could revolutionize spacecraft propulsion and was selected by NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program for Phase I development.

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The Future of Mars Exploration Belongs to Helicopters

NASA's Mars Helicopters: Present, Future, and Proposed: A family portrait of Mars helicopters - Ingenuity, Sample Recovery Helicopter, and a future Mars Science Helicopter concept. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Even though there’s no firm date for a Mars sample return mission, the Perseverance rover is busy collecting rock samples and caching them for retrieval. We’ve known of the future Mars sample return mission for a while now, and as time goes on, we’re learning more details.

The latest development concerns helicopters. With Ingenuity’s success, NASA has decided that the sample return mission will take two helicopters.

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How to Prevent our Spacecraft From Contaminating Mars

Credit: NASA

Mars has become something of an international playground over the past twenty years. There are currently eleven missions from five space agencies exploring the Red Planet, a combination of orbiters, landers, and rovers. Several additional robotic missions will be leaving for Mars in the next few years, and crewed missions are planned for the 2030s. Because of this increase in traffic, NASA and other space agencies are naturally worried about “planetary protection.”

With this in mind, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) recently released a new report that identified several criteria for future robotic missions to Mars. These would reduce these missions’ “bioburden” requirements, which are designed to prevent the unintentional contamination of the Red Planet with Earth-based organisms. Specifically, the report considers how Earth organisms would interfere with searches for indigenous life on the planet.

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SLS Hot Fire Test Should Have Lasted 8 Minutes, Not 1

Credit: NASA/SSC

Today, at close to 04:30 PM local time (CST), NASA achieved a major milestone with the development of the Space Launch System (SLS) – the heavy launch system they will use to send astronauts back to the Moon and crewed missions to Mars. As part of a Green Run Hot Fire Test, all four RS-25 engines on the SLS Core Stage were fired at once as part of the first top-to-bottom integrated test of the stage’s systems.

This test is the last hurdle in an eight-step validation process before the Core Stage can be mated with its Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) and sent on its maiden voyage around the Moon (Artemis I) – which is currently scheduled to happen sometime in November of 2021.

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InSight’s ‘Mole’ is Now Completely buried!

InSight's Mole is finally buried. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

It’s been a long road for InSight’s Mole. InSight landed on Mars almost two years ago, in November 2018. While the lander’s other instruments are working fine and returning scientific data, the Mole has been struggling to hammer its way into the surface of the planet.

After much hard work and a lot of patience, the Mole has finally succeeded in burying itself all the way into the Marian regolith.

But the drama hasn’t concluded yet.

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Rovers Will be Starting to Make Their Own Decisions About Where to Search for Life

An artist's illustration of the ExoMars/Rosalind Franklin rover on Mars. Image Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

We all know how exploration by rover works. The rover is directed to a location and told to take a sample. Then it subjects that sample to analysis and sends home the results. It’s been remarkably effective.

But it’s expensive and time-consuming to send all this data home. Will this way of doing things still work? Or can it be automated?

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There’s the Curiosity Rover, On the Move, Seen from Space

MSL Curiosity as imaged by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image Credit: NASA/CalTech-JPL

If the Curiosity rover was paranoid, would it feel like it was being watched? Well, it is being watched, by its brother in orbit, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The MRO watched Curiosity as it travelled through the ‘Clay-Bearing Unit‘ in Gale Crater, during June and July, 2019.

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This is What the Ground Looked Like After InSight Landed on Mars

The gnarly surface of Mars, with two pits excavated by InSight's thrusters. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

When InSight landed on Mars on Nov. 26th, 2018, it deployed a parachute to slow its descent through the thin Martian atmosphere. As it approached the surface, it fired its retro rocket to slow it even more, and then gently touched down on the surface. As it did so, its retro rockets excavated two small pits in the Martian soil.

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Land Heavier Payloads on Mars. Aim for the Ground and Then Pull up at the Last Moment

Deceleration of Mars Science Laboratory in Martian Atmosphere. Artist's Concept depicts the interaction of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft with the upper atmosphere of Mars during the entry, descent and landing (EDL) of the Curiosity rover onto the Martian surface. EDL begins when the spacecraft reaches the top of Martian atmosphere, about 81 miles (131 kilometers) above the surface of the Gale crater landing area, and ends with the rover safe and sound on the surface of Mars some 7 minutes later. During EDL, the spacecraft decelerates from a velocity of about 13,200 miles per hour (5,900 meters per second) at the top of the atmosphere, to stationary on the surface. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In the coming decades, a number of missions are planned for Mars, which include proposals to send astronauts there for the first time. This presents numerous logistical and technical challenges, ranging from the sheer distance to the need for increased protection against radiation. At the same time, there is also the difficulty of landing on the Red Planet, or what is referred to as the “Mars Curse“.

To complicate matters more, the size and mass of future missions (especially crewed spacecraft) will be beyond the capacity of current entry, descent, and landing (EDL) technology. To address this, a team of aerospace scientists released a study that shows how a trade-off between lower-altitude braking thrust and flight-path angle could allow for heavy missions to safely land on Mars.

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