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Archive for May, 2011

Wall Street Journal Publishes Zubrin Plan to Use SpaceX Hardware to Send Humans to Mars This Decade


May 16, 2011


In its May 14th issue, the Wall Street Journal, one of America’s top newspapers, published a commentary article by Dr. Robert Zubrin, President of the Mars Society, laying out a radical new plan for accomplishing a humans-to-Mars mission in this decade by using hardware systems soon to be fielded by SpaceX, a leading American space transport company.  The full article by Dr. Zubrin is presented below.

A paper containing additional material explaining the basis of the proposed mission plan can be found at: http://www.marssociety.org/home/press/news.  In addition, Dr. Zubrin will give a special in-depth presentation on the mission plan at the Fourteen Annual International Mars Society Convention, to be held in Dallas, Texas, August 4-7, 2011.

How We Can Fly to Mars in This Decade – And on the Cheap

The technology now exists and at half the cost of a Space Shuttle flight. All that is lacking is the political will to take more risks.


By Robert Zubrin, Wall Street Journal, May 14, 2011

SpaceX, a private firm that develops rockets and spacecraft, recently announced it will field a heavy lift rocket within two years that can deliver more than twice the payload of any booster now flying. This poses a thrilling question: Can we reach Mars in this decade?

It may seem incredible—since conventional presentations of human Mars exploration missions are filled with depictions of gigantic, futuristic, nuclear-powered interplanetary spaceships whose operations are supported by a virtual parallel universe of orbital infrastructure. There’s nothing like that on the horizon. But I believe we could reach Mars with the tools we have today, or will have in short order. Here’s how it could be done:

The SpaceX’s Falcon-9 Heavy rocket will have a launch capacity of 53 metric tons to low Earth orbit. This means that if a conventional hydrogen-oxygen chemical rocket upper stage were added, it would have the capability of sending 17.5 tons on a trajectory to Mars, placing 14 tons in Mars orbit, or landing 11 tons on the Martian surface.

The company has also developed and is in the process of demonstrating a crew capsule, known as the Dragon, which has a mass of about eight tons. While its current intended mission is to ferry up to seven astronauts to the International Space Station, the Dragon’s heat shield system is capable of withstanding re-entry from interplanetary trajectories, not just from Earth orbit. It’s rather small for an interplanetary spaceship, but it is designed for multiyear life, and it should be spacious enough for a crew of two astronauts who have the right stuff.

Thus a Mars mission could be accomplished utilizing three Falcon-9 Heavy launches. One would deliver to Mars orbit an unmanned Dragon capsule with a kerosene/oxygen chemical rocket stage of sufficient power to drive it back to Earth. This is the Earth Return Vehicle.

A second launch will deliver to the Martian surface an 11-ton payload consisting of a two-ton Mars Ascent Vehicle employing a single methane/oxygen rocket propulsion stage, a small automated chemical reactor system, three tons of surface exploration gear, and a 10-kilowatt power supply, which could be either nuclear or solar.

The Mars Ascent Vehicle would carry 2.6 tons of methane in its propellant tanks, but not the nine tons of liquid oxygen required to burn it. Instead, the oxygen could be made over a 500-day period by using the chemical reactor to break down the carbon dioxide that composes 95% of the Martian atmosphere.

Using technology to generate oxygen rather than transporting it saves a great deal of mass. It also provides copious power and unlimited oxygen to the crew once they arrive.

Once these elements are in place, the third launch would occur, which would send a Dragon capsule with a crew of two astronauts on a direct trajectory to Mars. The capsule would carry 2500 kilograms of consumables—sufficient, if water and oxygen recycling systems are employed, to support the two-person crew for up to three years. Given the available payload capacity, a light ground vehicle and several hundred kilograms of science instruments could be taken along as well.

The crew would reach Mars in six months and land their Dragon capsule near the Mars Ascent Vehicle. They would spend the next year and a half exploring.

Using their ground vehicle for mobility and the Dragon as their home and laboratory, they could search the Martian surface for fossil evidence of past life that may have existed in the past when the Red Planet featured standing bodies of liquid water. They also could set up drilling rigs to bring up samples of subsurface water, within which native microbial life may yet persist to this day. If they find either, it will prove that life is not unique to the Earth, answering a question that thinking men and women have wondered upon for millennia.

At the end of their 18-month surface stay, the crew would transfer to the Mars Ascent Vehicle, take off, and rendezvous with the Earth Return Vehicle in orbit. This craft would then take them on a six-month flight back to Earth, whereupon it would enter the atmosphere and splash down to an ocean landing.

There is nothing in this plan that is beyond our current level of technology. Nor would the costs be excessive. Falcon-9 Heavy launches are priced at about $100 million each, and Dragons are even cheaper. Adopting such an approach, we could send expeditions to Mars at half the mission cost currently required to launch a Space Shuttle flight.

What is required, however, is a different attitude towards risk than currently pervades the space policy bureaucracy. There is no question that the plan proposed here involves considerable risk. So does any plan that actually involves sending humans to Mars, rather than talking about it indefinitely. True, there are a variety of precursor missions, technology developments, and testing programs that might be recommended as ways of reducing risk. There are an infinite number of such potential missions and programs. If we try to do even a significant fraction of them before committing to the mission we will never get to Mars.

But is it responsible to forgo any expenditure that might reduce somewhat the risk to the crew? I believe so. The purpose of the space program is to explore space, and its expenditures come at the cost of other national priorities. If we want to reduce risk to human life, there are vastly more effective ways of doing so than by spending $10 billion per year for the next two or three decades on a human spaceflight program mired for study purposes in low Earth orbit. We could spend the money on childhood vaccinations, fire escape inspections, highway repairs, better body armor for the troops—take your pick. For NASA managers to demand that the mission be delayed for decades while several hundred billion dollars is spent to marginally reduce the risk to a handful of volunteers, when the same funds spent elsewhere could save the lives of tens of thousands, is narcissistic in the extreme.

The Falcon 9 Heavy is scheduled for its first flight in 2013. All of the other hardware elements described in this plan could be made ready for flight within the next few years as well. NASA’s astronauts have gone nowhere new since 1972, but these four decades of wasteful stagnation need not continue endlessly. If President Obama were to act decisively, and bravely embrace this plan, we could have our first team of human explorers on the Red Planet by 2016.

The American people want and deserve a space program that is really going somewhere. It’s time they got one. Fortune Favors the Bold. Mr. President, seize the day.

Dr. Zubrin is president of Pioneer Astronautics and of the Mars Society (www.marssociety.org). An updated edition of his book, “The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must,” will be published by The Free Press this June.


For further information about the Mars Society, visit its website atwww.marssociety.org

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[ Announcement from the Mars Foundation – http://www.MarsHome.org ]

The 30th Annual International Space Development Conference (ISDC) Huntsville, AL May 18-22, 2011

http://isdc.nss.org/2011/

Space Investment Summit 9, Wednesday, May 18, 2011

http://SpaceInvestmentSummit.com/

The Mars Foundation is a supporting organization of ISDC and SIS9, and is affiliated with NSS, the host organization of ISDC.

ISDC registration rates increase after May 8, 2011 http://isdc.nss.org/2011/register.shtml

Register now for the 2011 International Space Development Conference (ISDC). ISDC covers several broad areas of study related to building a spacefaring civilization, including transportation to and through space, technology needed to live and work in space, and Earth-based activities to advocate for or educate other about space development. The overall theme for ISDC 2011 is “From the Ground Up,” emphasizing the tools, resources, and social activities that must be accomplished to make a spacefaring civilization a reality.

Participants are encouraged not just to describe an ideal “future state”, but to think about the technical, economic, or advocacy steps that must be accomplished to achieve a specific goal. Featured ISDC Speakers Lori Garver – NASA Deputy Administrator Buzz Aldrin – Former Apollo 11 Astronaut, Author, and Founder, ShareSpace Foundation Michael Griffin – Eminent Scholar and Professor, University Alabama at Huntsville Simon ‘Pete’ Worden – Director, NASA Ames Research Center George Whitesides – CEO, Virgin Galactic Tours: United Launch Alliance (ULA) Decatur Alabama Assembly Plant NASA Marshall Space Flight Center HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology Meal Speakers: Thursday Lunch: Owen Garriott,Skylab and Space Shuttle Astronaut, Author. Richard Garriott, Space Tourist, Video Game Pioneer. Thursday Dinner/Reception: Rick Tumlinson, Founder/Chairman of Orbital Outfitters and Co-Founder of the Space Frontier Foundation. Friday Lunch: Dr. Paul Spudis. Senior Staff Scientist, Lunar and Planetary Institute.Dr. Spudis will receive the 2011 Space Pioneer Award for Scientific or Engineering Paper. Friday Governors’ Dinner/Gala: Keynote speaker to be announced. The X-51A WaveRider Team will receive the 2011 Space Pioneer Award for Science and Engineering. The JAXA Hayabusa Team will receive the 2011 Wernher von Braun Memorial Award presented by Dr. Curt von Braun. The Gala will be held under a real Saturn V rocket at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s Davidson Center for Space Exploration Saturday Lunch: Adam Harris, Vice President for Government Affairs, SpaceX. SpaceX will receive the 2011 Space Pioneer Award for Business: Entrepreneur Saturday Award Dinner: Jeff Greason, CEO and Co-Founder, XCOR Aerospace Sunday Lunch: Deborah Barnhart, CEO, U.S. Space and Rocket Center

For more info, or to register before rates increase after May 8: http://isdc.nss.org/2011/ http://isdc.nss.org/2011/register.shtml

http://SpaceInvestmentSummit.com/

— The Mars Foundation & Mars Homestead Project – http://MarsHome.org

The Mars Foundation’s mission is to lay the foundation for humanity’s settlement of the planet Mars and beyond, through education and public/private research into the use of local materials for manufacturing, construction, and agriculture on the red planet. Contact: Info@MarsHome.org

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