OCT 16, 2015 7:22 AM PDT

MIT Team Suggests: Launch Light From Earth To Mars, Pick Up Your Fuel Along The Way

WRITTEN BY: Andrew J. Dunlop
Going to Mars is something we Earthlings have wanted to do for centuries. By some estimates, we’ve had the necessary technology since the Apollo era. In fact, NASA planners intended to build on the Apollo system, making it bigger and more powerful, in order to reach the red planet. So why didn’t we go? Why don’t we have a Martian colony today? Cost. Even with all of our current space technology, a mission to Mars would be horrendously expensive. Interestingly, the most expensive part of space travel, by far, is getting things off of the Earth, into orbit. The going rate is about 10,000 dollars per pound. The heaviest part of all space craft is fuel. And the further you want to go, the less efficient rockets become, because more distance means more fuel. But getting that fuel into orbit requires more fuel. See the problem? A team from MIT has been looking into this problem, and they may have come up with a solution. What if you could find a way to not have to carry all of that fuel off the Earth, into orbit. What if you could pick up the fuel you needed for a trip to Mars along the way?


The MIT team proposes that missions to Mars and other deep space destinations could launch from Earth with just enough fuel to get into orbit. This would allow for a 68 percent reduction in launch weight, and therefore massively cut the cost of a mission.

Where, you may be wondering, could the ship launched from Earth get enough fuel to make it into deep space? Over the past few years, lunar probes and satellites have discovered that some craters on the Moon contain water ice. This ice can be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen, the two elements needed for rocket fuel. Additionally, recent NASA research has shown that  lunar regolith, that powdery soil on the moon, is comprised largely of elements that can also be processed into rocket fuel. NASA is currently developing technologies that would allow them to mine both of these resources and transform them into rocket fuel robotically. Taking all of these elements into consideration, the MIT team proposes that, once in Earth orbit, space ships could rendezvous with robotic tanker ships, that had been filled with fuel on the moon and then launched toward their rendezvous with the ship from Earth.



Olivier de Weck, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics and of engineering systems at MIT, says, "This is completely against the established common wisdom of how to go to Mars, which is a straight shot … (in which you) carry everything with you. …The idea of taking a detour into the lunar system (is) very unintuitive. But from an optimal network and big-picture view, this could be very affordable in the long term, because you don't have to ship everything from Earth.”


Source: Phys.org
About the Author
  • Andrew J. Dunlop lives and writes in a little town near Boston. He's interested in space, the Earth, and the way that humans and other species live on it.
You May Also Like
APR 10, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Discovery on solar interstellar magnetic field
APR 10, 2020
Discovery on solar interstellar magnetic field
New information on the solar neighborhood has allowed researchers from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the Un ...
APR 17, 2020
Cancer
Can astronauts withstand radiation on a mission to Mars?
APR 17, 2020
Can astronauts withstand radiation on a mission to Mars?
New research published in the journal Science Advances attempts to model the risk of cancer that astronauts will incur f ...
APR 28, 2020
Space & Astronomy
NASA's Swift Telescope Measured the Water Loss of This Interstellar Comet
APR 28, 2020
NASA's Swift Telescope Measured the Water Loss of This Interstellar Comet
When the interstellar comet 2l/Borisov made its first appearance in our solar system, astronomers were quick to turn the ...
MAY 31, 2020
Space & Astronomy
SpaceX Demo-2 Mission Docks Safely with International Space Station
MAY 31, 2020
SpaceX Demo-2 Mission Docks Safely with International Space Station
SpaceX and NASA gave the green light for the precedent-setting Demo-2 mission Saturday afternoon, officially bringing cr ...
JUN 26, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Astrophysicists Find Evidence of Nearby Planet that May Sustain Life
JUN 26, 2020
Astrophysicists Find Evidence of Nearby Planet that May Sustain Life
Researchers have found that a nearby red dwarf star, known as Gliese 887, may host three planets, one of which could sus ...
AUG 09, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Human Spaceflight Returns to the US with SpaceX's Success
AUG 09, 2020
Human Spaceflight Returns to the US with SpaceX's Success
On August 7, A SpaceX recovery vessel called GO Navigator brought the Crew Dragon capsule back to its home port.
Loading Comments...