After sending rovers that explored the Red Planet’s surface, man will soon launch crewed missions to Mars, which could potentially transform the moon into a “pit stop.”
— The Daily Galaxy (@dailygalaxy) October 14, 2015
This idea was clearly highlighted in an article in the Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets, in which Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) experts mentioned that this idea would potentially reduce the mass of the spacecraft by up to 68 percent the moment it leaves Earth.
The article was based on the Ph.D thesis of Takuto Ishimatsu, who is now on his post-doctoral degree at MIT. “Our ultimate goal is to colonize Mars and to establish a permanent, self-sustainable human presence there,” said Ishimatsu. “However, equally importantly, I believe that we need to “pave a road” in space so that we can travel between planetary bodies in an affordable way.”
In the report, a depot should be placed at the Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 2 (EML2), which is “a point of gravitational equilibrium lying beyond the Moon’s far side,” and allow the crewed spacecraft to make an interplanetary pit stop first before shooting towards Mars.
The proposed plan would reportedly require a “a propellant depot, a reusable lunar lander, a propellant tanker, and an orbital transfer vehicle with aero braking capability.”
It would also require that infrastructure be installed on the moon’s surface in order to generate enough chemical propulsion fuel for the moon-bound spacecraft. These fuels include liquid oxygen (LOX), and liquid hydrogen (LH2), which may be obtained from water ice at the lunar poles.
The proposed model will use the idea of “in-situ resource utilization,” which means that resources like fuel, and necessary provisions like oxygen and water, may be “harvested” along the actual route of space exploration.
This points to a scenario wherein the resources onboard the spacecraft prior to launch would just be the necessary fuel it needs to get out of the Earth’s atmosphere. Once it reaches a “pit stop” or an area in space where resources and provisions may be obtained, those would be the sources to sustain the journey.
In addition to the detour to the moon, Ishimatsu also made a proposal in his thesis for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA to build a network that would be pre-deployed. This includes stations for spares, fuel-production, and other supplies to help with the journey.
— Prez Cannady (@opencorrelate) October 15, 2015
Olivier de Weck, an MIT aeronautics professor and the second author of the paper, also mentioned that, while they have not estimated costs for research, operation, and development, he stated that the $8.5 billion projected cost of the current NASA model, can be reduced to just $5.8 billion per mission.
“The optimization suggests that the moon could play a major role in getting us to Mars repeatedly and sustainably,” de Weck stated in the paper. “People have hinted at that before, but we think this is the first definitive paper that shows mathematically why that’s the right answer.”
De Weck made his point regarding NASA’s current model that will only sustain a single “carry along” journey to Mars. On the other hand, their proposed plan would be able to not only reduce costs for the first man-accompanied journey, but subsequent expeditions thereafter.
Since NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover landed on the Red Planet in 2012, it has continued to fascinate the world with its discoveries including a dry riverbed and several locations that showed evidence that there was presence of water in the planet.
As a result, NASA has created a 2030 timeline for a crewed mission to Mars, although it is not evident whether the proposed model will still fit this timeline.
Interestingly, back in the ’90s, NASA reportedly had a mantra that said, “Back to the Moon and on to Mars”.
[Image via NASA]