Here's Elon Musk's Vision for Affordable Space Travel to Mars

Credit: Bloomberg


 
 

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The Mars Science Laboratory Entry, Descent, and Landing Instrument (MEDLI) Suite is a set of engineering sensors designed to measure the atmospheric conditions and performance of the MSL heatshield during entry and descent at Mars. While not part of the core MSL scientific payload, it will provide important information for the design of entry systems for future planetary missions. The instrument suite was designed and developed by NASA Langley Research Center, in partnership with NASA Ames Research Center. Credit: NASA X

 
 
 

This concept animation shows just one of many potential concepts for how the first human landing site on Mars might evolve throughout the course of multiple human expeditions to the Red Planet over a decade or more.

How Project Constellation would have taken Man to Mars by the 2030's \ This video features the ORION MPCV, Ares I, Ares V, the NTR cargo transfer vehicles and the NTR Mars transfer vehicles. / http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/inde.... / The Original Mars Direct Plan: http://wp10988215.wp134.webpack.hoste...  Credits : John Frassanito & Associates for NASA.

The outflow channel is ~373 miles long (600 km) and about 1.2 miles deep 2 km). The indicators of liquid water in the past have made this area a landing site candidate for the ExoMars 2020 mission. The flyover animation was created from images taken by the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter. -- Same orbiter used to creat fly over of Martian 'Ancient Atlantis': https://goo.gl/pm4U7s

Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

SpaceX and NASA to work together on 2018 and future Mars missions. http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nas...


So finally SpaceX and NASA are working together on a proposed SpaceX Mars mission.  SpaceX plans to send a Red Dragon spacecraft lander to Mars sometimes 2018. 

Elon Musk hopes to prove the concept works and can be  used in future missions to the red planet. Red Dragon will be tested however Mars has very thin atmosphere and propulsive landing has its limits 

NASA has similar plans, however their timetable isn’t as audacious, they’re best with problems, Orion spacecraft has been delayed by at least 3 years and SLS Launcher is yet to be tested fully. 


SpaceX on the other hand is testing Raptor engines and is about to test Falcon Heavy rocket in December with first commercial flight scheduled for March 2017.

Raptor is the first member of a family of cryogenic methane-fuelled rocket engines under development by SpaceX. It is specifically intended to power high-performance lower and upper stages for SpaceX super-heavy launch vehicles. The engine will be powered by liquid methane and liquid oxygen. 

However NASA has extensive experience and expertise with Mars landings and is working on a technology that SpaceX lacks. Namely Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator technology, something NASA and JPL have been working on for few years now. 

Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator is a lander technology that creates a drag and slows down re-entry vehicle as it enters planet’s atmosphere. The goal of the project is to develop a re-entry system capable of landing 2- to 3-ton payloads on Mars, as opposed to the 1-ton limit of the currently used systems. However LDSD Technology won’t be tested on 2018 mission as it is not ready, the extent of NASA co-operation with SpaceX will allow SpaceX access to NASA’s Deep Space Network to communicate and guide its spacecraft. Interplanetary navigation experts at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will be the ones plotting the course of the craft.


Other than that, NASA will also be helping SpaceX to determine the best landing sites for the craft, guide and analyse the Red Dragon during entry, and evaluate the different systems in the craft. 


The success of SpaceX 2018 Mars mission should pave way for future NASA/SpaceX collaboration and perhaps even NASA financing part of the very first manned mission to Mars. 


Proposed 2018 SpaceX mission to Mars is set to cost between $300-320 million. NASA’s similar mission to Mars normally costs in region of $1.7-1.85 billion. Another reason why NASA is on-board with SpaceX Mars mission.

 
 

Mars Direct is a proposal for a manned mission to Mars that is designed to be both cost-effective and possible with 90's technology. It was originally detailed in a research paper by NASA engineers Robert Zubrin and David Baker in 1990,

First launch
The first flight of the Ares rocket (not to be confused with the similarly named rocket of the now defunct Constellation program) would bring an unmanned Earth Return Vehicle to Mars after a 6-month cruise phase, with a supply of hydrogen, a chemical plant and a small nuclear reactor. Once there, a series of chemical reactions (the Sabatier reaction coupled with electrolysis) would be used to combine a small amount of hydrogen (8 tons) carried by the Earth Return Vehicle with the carbon dioxide of the Martian atmosphere to create up to 112 tonnes of methane and oxygen. This relatively simple chemical-engineering procedure was utilized regularly in the 19th and 20th centuries, and would ensure that only 7% of the return propellant would need to be carried to the surface of Mars.

96 tonnes of methane and oxygen would be needed to send the Earth Return Vehicle on a trajectory back home at the conclusion of the surface stay, the rest would be available for Mars rovers. The process of generating fuel is expected to require approximately ten months to complete.

Second launch
Some 26 months after the Earth Return Vehicle is originally launched from Earth, a second vehicle, the "Mars Habitat Unit", would be launched on a 6-month long low-energy transfer trajectory to Mars, and would carry a crew of four astronauts (the minimum number required so that the team can be split in two without leaving anyone alone). The Habitat Unit would not be launched until the automated factory aboard the ERV had signaled the successful production of chemicals required for operation on the planet and the return trip to Earth. During the trip, artificial gravity would be generated by tethering the Habitat Unit to the spent upper stage of the booster, and setting them rotating about a common axis. This rotation would produce a comfortable 1G working environment for the astronauts, freeing them of the debilitating effects of long-term exposure to weightlessness.

Landing and surface operations
Upon reaching Mars, the upper stage would be jettisoned, with the Habitat Unit aerobraking into Mars orbit before soft-landing in proximity to the Earth Return Vehicle. Precise landing would be supported by a radar beacon started by the first lander. Once on Mars, the crew would spend 18 months on the surface, carrying out a range of scientific research, aided by a small rover vehicle carried aboard their Mars Habitat Unit, and powered by the methane produced by the Earth Return Vehicle.

Return and follow-up missions
To return, the crew would use the Earth Return Vehicle, leaving the Mars Habitat Unit for the possible use of subsequent explorers. On the return trip to Earth, the propulsion stage of the Earth Return Vehicle would be used as a counterweight to generate artificial gravity for the trip back.

Follow-up missions would be dispatched at 2 year intervals to Mars to ensure that a redundant ERV would be on the surface at all times, waiting to be utilized by the next crewed mission or the current crew in an emergency. In such an emergency scenario, the crew would trek hundreds of kilometers to the other ERV in their long-range vehicle.