Solar-powered Martian missions

(ORDO NEWS) — Solving the mystery of Martian life would require robots to collect samples and return to Earth, an insanely expensive mission estimated at between $5 billion and $10 billion. However, some scientists believe that the cost of this journey can be significantly reduced by using electric propulsion systems.

The Mars sample return (MSR) mission will require powerful micro-rocket engines and efficient solar panels, which are currently being developed around the world or even already exist.

Such technologies would make it possible to reduce the weight of the transported chemical propellants found in the tanks of traditional rockets and spacecraft – and would make it possible for a mission to collect and return Martian soil samples to Earth within the next decade. We have already written about some proposals in space news for past periods.

“We have a pretty good chance of getting a solid technology for MSR after 2020,” says Wolfgang Seboldt, a physicist at the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

Harness the energy of the sun

Most space missions burn chemical fuel to achieve boost, which only lasts as long as fuel is available.

A Mars mission could switch to using an electric propulsion system once it reaches Earth orbit, before starting its journey to Mars, Seboldt says.

At the start, it will move quite slowly, turning xenon into streams of charged particles, but over time it will pick up a decent speed with almost unlimited power from electric solar panels.

Such a Martian orbiter could enable a trip to the Red Planet and back that would be cheaper and at least no longer than traditional chemical fuel missions, even with the addition of heavy solar arrays to the mass of the vehicle. “The weight gain from solar panels is more than offset by the savings in fuel weight,” explains Seboldt.

Plan a trip to Mars

The standard scenario of the expedition assumes two vehicles launched from the Earth separately from each other – the orbital and landing modules.

The lander descends to the surface of the Red Planet to collect samples. The orbiter then uses traditional chemical propulsion to lift the probe that collected the samples to return it to the orbiter for its return trip to Earth.

A hybrid version of this standard scenario would include an orbital module using electric propulsion. In an alternative scenario, the lander could even climb onto the shoulders of the orbiter to reach the Red Planet.

And send people there

Technologies related to electric propulsion systems have received a significant boost in recent years. The US aerospace giant Boeing plans to use such engines in most of its satellites in geostationary orbits – both for launching satellites into these orbits and for controlling the position of the vehicles during further operation.

And if that optimism persists, solar-powered propulsion could make not only robotic but also human missions to Mars possible in the future.


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