Landing on Mars is the obvious challenge, but settling the Red Planet has a plethora of other obstacles to overcome. Dr. Sarah Milkovich, Science Systems Engineer at NASA/JPL, laid out the challenges Mars pioneers will face during a recent guest appearance on Red Planet Live.
Breaking down challenges
Milkovich divided the many Mars settlements into categories:
Today, physical challenges are the most obvious issue facing the Mars human settlement effort. Phys.org explains that three things come together to make Mars physically difficult to land on.
The planet’s gravity
NASA estimates that Mars has about one-third of Earth’s gravity. For that reason, objects such as spacecraft would land more slowly than they would on earth.
Over eons, Mars’ atmosphere broke down. NASA attributes the atmospheric breakdown to the “desiccated” surface of Mars today.
Once upon a time, Mars may have had a life-supporting environment but is now a barren, dusty wasteland.
Mars’ atmosphere is “perilously thin,” Phys.org wrote. Because it is thinner than the earth, it brings some unique navigational challenges.
Earth’s atmosphere is thicker than Mars’. For that reason, an aircraft can glide gently from point to point.
Mars has a thin atmosphere that takes away this glide factor. Instead, the space raft plummets toward that landing point, reaching speeds of 12,000 mph.
To date, successful human-piloted space missions have been on the Moon. The Moon, unlike Earth or Mars, has no atmosphere. For that reason, landing teams can use retrorockets, a kind of rocket that uses thrusters.
The red planet’s distance from Earth
Many modern aeronautics companies are paving paths to work around the problem of distance. Distance problems circle primarily around the need for fuel sources. Other issues include materials that can withstand the trip.
Space innovators, such as Orbit Fab, look for ways to launch “gas stations” from satellites. These “gas stations” would act as halfway points to refuel space craft on the long journey to the Red planet.
Expenses and other material challenges
If you’ve been following Better Futures for a while, you’ve been hearing us speak on the money challenges of Space. Space, just like earthbound business, requires governing policies and business cases to put assets in the sky.
Mars presents big-ticket science and innovation needs that aeronautics companies will have to solve around. They will need to work within the scope of the policy, all while using science to the best of current human understanding.
The mental toll
Milkovich explained that the toll of Mars would be far more than the physical strain it takes to get there.
Because the atmosphere is so thin, Mars settlers would have to live in artificial environments. Air would need to be piped in, sometimes into enclosed tube-like cities.
These would sometimes be subterranean, meaning that the Mars pioneer would also never see the sun.
Ways scientists will overcome obstacles
Milkovich has confidence in robotics for Mars exploration. Robots can go to areas that humans can’t. By allowing robots to make some of the long-haul early explorations of Mars, humans can take pressure off the physical and mental challenges that Mars is sure to bring.
Research collected by robots can then be used to adapt and overcome these challenges, making Mars a place humans can someday safely explore.
Text by Rachel Brooks.
In the year 2022, the rocket launch industry has continued to evolve at a rapid pace. Advances in technology and innovative business models have made space more accessible and affordable than ever before.
One of the most significant developments in the industry has been the widespread adoption of fully reusable rockets. These vehicles are able to complete multiple launches without requiring significant refurbishment, greatly reducing the cost of access to space. Companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin have pioneered this technology, and it has now become standard practice in the industry. Even Rocketlab is trying interesting ideas like catching the first stage with a helicopter and Arianespace will begin testing their reusable prototype in 2023.
SpaceX almost doubles their 2021 launch total of 31 with their successful launch on December 29th from Vandenburg, bringing their total launch to a record-breaking 61. China slightly beats SpaceX for the most launches with their government program, and 2 launches from the commercial China. If we sorted by country, USA has the most launches.
Rise of Small Satellite Launch
In addition to reusable rockets, the industry has also seen the rise of small satellite launch vehicles. These vehicles are specifically designed to carry small payloads into orbit, making it possible for a wider range of organizations and individuals to access space. This has opened up new opportunities for research, communication, and exploration, and has enabled the development of a whole new industry based on small satellites.
As the cost of access to space has decreased, there has been a boom in space tourism. Companies like Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are offering regular suborbital flights to paying customers, giving them the opportunity to experience weightlessness and see the curvature of the Earth from space. In 2022, we also saw private customers goto the International Space Station in concert with Axiom Space.
Overall, the rocket launch industry in 2022 is a thriving and dynamic sector, with new technologies and business models enabling a wide range of activities in orbit. The future looks bright for the industry, with many exciting developments on the horizon.
Graphics & Text by Leah Malmos
In the recent past, private companies reaching Space before government programs were crazy talk to industry professionals. Today, private enterprise makes great leaps for both government and private programs.
Dr. Doug Plata, President and Founder of the Space Development Network, reasons that the mass production of SpaceX’s Starship craft engineers around many project problems. Issues such as budget and rebuilding craft post damages are resolved with a massive volume of craft to test with.
Plata spoke with the DareGreatly show in December. He and show host and Liftport Group founder Michael Laine discussed recent trends of mass commercial space exploration craft production.
“The progress that SpaceX has made has gotten rid of that giggle factor,” said Plata.
Plata reasons that SpaceX closes gaps in the time factor it will take to reach the high-level anticipated projects. Plata and Laine discussed some of the extreme feats of Space exploration in the books.
Musk has publicly stated that his program plans to have humans on Mars by 2031.
While there have been many delays to such ambitious feats in past Space exploration eras, Plata reasons that Space X’s mass production venture narrows down production hiccups.
“By that time, that is what, 9 years from now? They will have thousands of Raptor 2 engines that have been produced. They will be well on their way…,” said Plata, referring to Space X.
How Far Will Mass Commercial Craft Production Take Us?
Musk’s Mars project is one of the daring feats of Space exploration, but it isn’t the only one. NASA’s exploration of Jovian moons, in the region near Jupiter, seeks to explore Jupiter’s interior with a target date of 2031.
Dr. Plata's logic, that Space X's mass production of space craft closes contingencies for Mars reach, poses a follow-up question. By the time that NASA is ready to branch out to the Jovian system, what role will commercial development play? Will SpaceX's mass star fleet manufactured for Mars reach, take on a new role at that time? Can mass production, by its sheer volume, put Jovian closer than we yet imagine?
As commercial ventures collapse the contingency gaps, new possibilities open up. The concept of humans on Mars as a near-future venture is no longer crazy talk.
Photo Credit: Jupiter Family, Wikimedia Foundation Commons
Feature text by Rachel Brooks, Next Dawn newsletter
Hey, there! We love to hear your thoughts. Do you think our speculation is close to the mark? Will commercial Space craft production lines make Mars and Jovian more reachable, or are there big set backs to note?
In the comments below, tell us what you think.
See the recap of the Dare Greatly show, featuring Dr. Plata