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Monday, September 1, 2003

Mars For Less Mission Architecture

Happy Labor Day everyone! Today is a big day for Red Colony.

Grant Bonin, an Aerospace Engineering student at Carleton University in Ottawa, has sent us his brand new mission architecture for a manned mission to Mars. A modified form of Zubrin's Mars Direct, Grant's architecture will cost a tenth of the best plans out there now and will use existing technology. That means we can go to Mars NOW instead of waiting to develop the rockets capable of getting us there. Grant's credentials include "building an In-Situ Propellant Production System, which won a silver medal at the Canada-Wide Science Fair, to presenting at the Third Annual Mars Society Convention, to studying aerospace engineering in preparation for a life absolutely dedicated to pushing for a crewed Mars mission; of course, not just one mission, but a continued human presence on the red planet."

Here is part of the email he sent me a while back, before he began work on the project:

I've been doing a study for the last three months on methods of sending a human mission to Mars utilizing expendible launch vehicles in the payload class of the Titan IV or Ariane 5; that is, rockets with roughly 20 tonnes to low-Earth orbit launch capacity. By using high-energy, off the shelf propulsion stages such as the Centaur (or alternatively, inexpensive space storable propulsion stages burning lower-energy propellants), a Mars-bound spacecraft can be dispatched to the red planet using a succession of individual rocket stages, for costs that sit below those associated with an average space shuttle launch.

The principle advantage of this approach is complete reliance on what we already have; this architecture only requires the development of equipment that's sent to Mars. It does not demand the construction of a heavy-lift launch system - a prospect that appears increasingly doubtful as of late, with the current lack of confidence in the Space Transportation System that takes the shuttle to orbit. Any shuttle-derived launch systems may prove too politically problematic to develop in the near-future: accordingly, this mission design obviates their need entirely.

My initial numbers place developmental costs below the Mars Direct architecture, since the need for heavy-booster development is rendered moot, and cost per mission sits at between 1 and 2 billion dollars per mars-bound spacecraft, depending on the specifics of the system employed.

So here it is, the world premiere of the mission architecture for a manned mission to Mars.

- posted by Alex @ 15:25 EST