OCT 16, 2015 07:33 PM PDT

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

Part I of this article explained how a team from MIT has come up with a revolutionary new weight and cost-saving plan for a manned mission to Mars in which ships would be launched from Earth with just enough fuel to get them into orbit, and then rendezvous with the fuel they needed to complete the journey. The raw materials for the fuel would be robotically mined on the Moon, then processed into fuel, and launched toward its rendezvous with the Mars-bound ships. The MIT team’s plan is based on the PhD thesis of Takuto Ishimatsu, a current postdoc at MIT.

On the way to Mars? Why not use fuel from the Moon?

So far, NASA has employed two main strategies for supplying missions with resources: The first is a carry-along approach, in which everything the mission requires: all vehicles, provisions, and fuel are launched at the same time in the same vehicle. This was the approach NASA used for the Apollo missions. The second is a "resupply strategy," in which resources are replenished on a regular basis the way they are with regular flights to the International Space Station.

These models have worked fairly well for missions to the Moon and the ISS, but if we’re going further into space, to Mars or beyond, sending everything up in one launch is prohibitively expensive, and resupply missions simply would not be plausible. As Olivier de Weck, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics and of engineering systems at MIT and Ishimatsu put it, "As budgets are constrained and destinations are far away from home, a well-planned logistics strategy becomes imperative."
This new approach that the MIT team advocates is referred to in the space exploration community as "in-situ resource utilization”. Simply put, it is the idea that resources such as fuel, water, and oxygen, can, in many cases, be collected and produced along the way during space missions. In this scheme materials produced in space can supplant those that would otherwise be transported from Earth. Any place there is water ice, for example, could be mined to produce all four of these vital consumables.
"There's a pretty high degree of confidence that these resources are available," says de Weck. "Assuming you can extract these resources, what do you do with it? Almost nobody has looked at that question."



The main body of Ishimatsu’s work on the project was the theoretical development of a network flow model which explored various routes to Mars, comparing NASA’s standard direct carry-along flight to a flight with a series of refueling pit stops along the way. Ishimatsu was trying to find the smallest amount of mass that could be launched from Earth to accomplish a Mars mission. Remarkably, even when he factored in the mass of launching a fuel-producing plant and spare tankers that would need to be pre-deployed, he found that the "in-situ resource utilization” model required far less mass to be launched from Earth. Of course, when you look at pictures of a skyscraper-sized Saturn 5 rocket, keep in mind that, when loaded, 97 percent of the mass was propellant.

The MIT team’s vision extends far beyond a single mission to Mars. ”Our ultimate goal,” says Ishimatsu, “is to colonize Mars and to establish a permanent, self-sustainable human presence there. … 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.” de Weck adds that (their plan) …suggests that the moon could play a major role in getting us to Mars repeatedly and sustainably. …People have hinted at that before, but we think this is the first definitive paper that shows mathematically why that's the right answer.”


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
OCT 17, 2018
Space & Astronomy
OCT 17, 2018
Do Magnetic Fields Influence Supermassive Black Hole Activity?
Black holes have long captivated some of the most brilliant minds in astrophysics, and despite all the space telescope observations astronomers have made o...
NOV 19, 2018
Space & Astronomy
NOV 19, 2018
Kepler Scientists Reflect on the Now Retired Mission
NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope recently ran out of fuel, preventing it from aligning its antenna toward Earth and maintaining communication. NASA knew...
NOV 20, 2018
Earth & The Environment
NOV 20, 2018
This Massive Impact Crater Was Hiding Underneath Greenland's Ice
After searching the ice-covered lands of Greenland, scientists have discovered what appears to be a massive impact crater that was previously hidden by mor...
DEC 04, 2018
Space & Astronomy
DEC 04, 2018
NASA's OSIRIS-REx Probe Arrives Safely at Asteroid Bennu
Following a two-year journey through our solar system, NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (...
DEC 23, 2018
Space & Astronomy
DEC 23, 2018
Here's Why We Don't Have a Picture of a Black Hole Yet
All black hole images you've ever seen have been artist's renditions; but in 2017, a team of astronomers set out to officially photograph of a blac...
DEC 24, 2018
Space & Astronomy
DEC 24, 2018
Saturn Won't Have its Rings Forever, So Enjoy Them While They Last
If you’ve been following the news lately, then you might’ve heard that Saturn is losing its rings more quickly than astronomers ever realized....
Loading Comments...