In 2018, the planets will align, offering a unique orbit opportunity to travel to Mars and back to Earth in only 501 days. Inspiration Mars intends to send a two-person American crew—a man and a woman—on a journey to within 100 miles of Mars and return them to Earth safely.
The mission’s target launch date is 5 January 2018. This quick, free-return orbit opportunity occurs twice every 15 years. After 2018, the next opportunity will not occur again until 2031.
Taber MacCallum, program manager, Inspiration Mars has provided some details on recent and upcoming activities.
The project has been busy figuring out what spacecraft components, such as the capsule and life support systems, will be optimal for the 501-day round-trip mission. They’ve been negotiating with companies under non-disclosure agreements. MacCallum said he expected to be able to discuss the architecture of the mission in detail by the end of 2013.
Improved Heat Shield is a big technical problem
One of them is getting the crew safely home through Earth’s atmosphere. Apollo astronauts flying back from the moon hit speeds of 25,000 mph in Earth’s atmosphere, which required extensive shielding. With the Mars flight, speeds will near 32,000 mph, and the difference is not linear, MacCallum said. Which means shielding is going to be an especially difficult problem.
NBF – a big question is how would an upgraded heat shield be space certified ? You would need a rocket to sling shot around the moon and then speed up to get the 32000 mph speed before hitting the earth’s atmosphere.
Crew Selection and Preliminary design review in 2014
Baylor College of Medicine’s Dr. Jonathan Clark is leading the process of identifying astronauts for the mission and doing the selection. However, because of the growing relationship with NASA, MacCallum said ultimately the space agency may ultimately conduct the selection process, and the candidates might be NASA astronauts.
Inspiration Mars needs to be looking at a preliminary design review for the flight in the first third of 2014, which means having the design, associated production and ground support plans for the mission sketched out.
The program has money for this year and next from Dennis Tito’s donation.
To fund the mission itself, there are two steps.
1) Obtain in-kind donations of hardware from industry participants, the kinds of companies who would hope to see their hardware used on future, deep-space exploration missions.
2) there will be naming-rights and media-rights opportunities along with philanthropy.
The Mars mission will launch Jan 5, 2018 to enable a free gravitation return.
The mission will provide a platform for unprecedented science, engineering and education opportunities, using state-of-the-art technologies derived from NASA and the International Space Station. It will be financed primarily through philanthropic donations, with some potential support from government sources.
This mission will be a flyby passing within 100 miles of the surface of Mars. Additional maneuvers will be minor course corrections only, using the gravitational influence of Mars to “slingshot” the vehicle onto a return course to Earth. An inflatable habitat module will be deployed after launch and detached prior to re-entry.
The beauty of this mission is its simplicity. The flyby architecture lowers risk, with no critical propulsive maneuvers, no entry into the Mars atmosphere, and no rendezvous and docking. It also represents the shortest duration roundtrip mission to Mars. The 2018 launch opportunity coincides with the 11-year solar minimum providing the lowest solar radiation exposure. The next launch opportunity for this mission (2031) will not have the advantage of being at the solar minimum.
There are risks associated with the mission, as is true of every space exploration mission. But these are exactly the kinds of risks that America should be willing to take in order to advance our knowledge, experience and position as a world leader. We believe the risks and challenges we have uncovered are well within the scope of our collective experience and can be overcome to achieve a safe and successful mission. In fact, studies by experts have found that the technology and systems are viable with proper integration, testing and preparation for flight.
We are steadfastly committed to the safety, health and overall well-being of our crew. We will only fly this mission if we are convinced that it is safe to do.
The foundation has formed a partnership with NASA via a reimbursable Space Act Agreement between Paragon and the Ames Research Center to conduct thermal protection system and technology testing and evaluation. Foundation officials will also seek to tap into NASA’s knowledge, experience and technologies to fine-tune and/or develop some of the more challenging elements of this mission, including environmental controls, radiation protection, and human health and productivity plans.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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