(ORDO NEWS) — With many space agencies now sending missions to Mars to study the environment, atmosphere, and geological history, it seems likely that crewed flights are just around the corner.
In fact, NASA and China have made it clear that they intend to send missions to Mars by the early 2030s that will culminate in the creation of a terrestrial habitat.
In one recent study, a team from the Blue Marble Space Research Institute has explored how different materials can be used to create radiation-protective structures.
Among them were materials brought from Earth, and those that can be mined directly in the Martian environment.
This corresponds to the process of applying resources in situ as they are used to meet the needs of astronaut crews and the mission.
The study was led by Dionysios Gakis, a visiting scientist at BMSIS and a graduate in Physics from the University of Patras, Greece.
He was joined by Dr. Dimitra Atri Professor of Physics at the Center for Space Science at New York University Abu Dhabi and Gakisa’s Academic Supervisor.
The Martian radiation environment is much more dangerous than the Earth’s because of the thin atmosphere and the absence of a planetary magnetic field.
On Earth, people in developed countries receive an average of 0.62 rad (6.2 mSv) per year, while the surface of Mars receives about 24.45 rad (244.5 mSv) per year – and even more when solar events occur ( e.g. solar flares).
As Dr. Atri said, this radiation comes in several forms: “Galactic cosmic rays (GCRs) are composed of charged particles that are a billion (or more) times more energetic than visible light.
They can penetrate protective screens and cause irreparable damage to the human body. In addition, solar storms sometimes accelerate charged particles to very high energies (solar energetic particles), which can cause comparable damage.
The amount of radiation coming from cosmic rays is highly predictable, while solar storms are very difficult to predict.”
For their study, Gakis and Dr. Atri studied the properties of various shielding materials that could be brought to Mars or assembled locally.
These included materials common in the aerospace industry – aluminum, polyethylene, cyclohexane, polymethyl methacrylate, mylar and kevlar, as well as water, carbon fiber, liquid hydrogen and Martian regolith.
As Gakis explained, they evaluated each of these materials using the GEANT4 numerical model, a software package that simulates the passage of particles through matter using statistical Monte Carlo methods.
Their results showed that hydrogen-rich materials have a predictable response to GCRs and are therefore the best protection against cosmic rays.
They also found that regolith has an intermediate reaction and can therefore be used for additional shielding – especially when combined with aluminum.
As for aluminum and carbon fiber, they can be produced locally using aluminum mined from Martian rock and carbon collected from the atmosphere.
They can then be shielded using locally mined water ice and regolith, which the robots will 3D print to create a protective superstructure.
Such habitats will enable long-term missions far beyond Earth and may even be a stepping stone to permanent human settlements in space.
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