Mars Mission Update: June 2020

Drifting alone through the darkness of space,
a small capsule traverses the void. Onboard, the two pioneers prepare for
the next step of their voyage. Mere hours ago, history had been made. For the first time, astronauts
had launched into orbit in a commerciallybuilt spacecraft – the first crewed launch
from the United States in nearly a decade. Looking down from orbit, they carried the
hopes and dreams of a whole world, knowingthat this was just the beginning. Countless worlds would soon be explored, igniting a vibrant future amongst the stars. In today’s Mars Mission Update, we’re going to be
taking a look at what comes nextfor human spaceflight after the first crewed Dragon launch by NASA and SpaceX. We’ll cover the commercialisation of low Earth orbit,the ongoing endeavours to build Starships
in Texas, the plan to return astronauts tothe Moon in a sustainable way, and finally,
how all these ingredients will enablethe first human missions to the red planet. *Intro plays*On May 30th, 2020, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley
and Bob Behnken were strapped into a SpaceXDragon capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket. With
their successful launch into orbit, one daylater they docked with the International Space
Station. But this was not just any routinemission, it was the first launch of astronauts
by a private company and the return of humanspaceflight to the United States after the
retirement of the Space Shuttle back in 2011. This mission, known as Demo-2, marks the culmination
of NASA’s Commercial Program. The centralgoal of Commercial Crew is to reduce the cost
of sending astronauts to space by commercialisinglow Earth Orbit. The idea being that this
would free up NASA’s resources to focuson missions to deep space. Back in 2012, a
similar initiative, the commercial cargo,or COTS, program saw a commercially built
and operated spacecraft, SpaceX’s Dragon,begin regular resupply missions to the international
space station. Building on the success ofcommercial cargo, in 2014 NASA awarded Commercial
Crew contracts to two companies: SpaceX and Boeing (with $4. 2
bn). Each company was tasked with buildinga crew-capable spacecraft, flying two demonstration
missions, and beginning astronaut transportservices to the International Space Station.
Though the first crewed flights were initiallyplanned for 2017, the Commercial Crew Program
is finally reaching fruition. SpaceX developedthe Dragon 2, called Crew Dragon in its astronaut
configuration, which saw its first flightto the space station, the uncrewed Demo-1
mission, in March 2019. They followed thiswith a successful in-flight abort test in
January 2020, where a Dragon demonstratedits ability to escape from a malfunctioning
Falcon 9 and return safely to Earth. Mostrecently of course, we all saw the incredible
launch of the crewed Demo-2 mission. Meanwhile, the other partner in the Commercial
Crew Program, Boeing, remains around a yearaway from flying astronauts. Boeing’s Starliner
capsule conducted its first orbital test flightin December 2019, launching on an Atlas
V rocket. Unfortunately, multiple softwareissues during the mission required it to abandon
docking with the space station and instead returnto Earth. Boeing are now planning to repeat
this with an uncrewed test flight in November witha crewed demonstration flight following,
if all goes well, early next year. So what comes next for the Commercial Crew
Program? Well, first Doug Hurley and Bob Behnkenwill complete an operational mission aboard
the space station. Their mission will lastfor 1-4 months, with the limiting factor being
the timescale for degradation of the Dragon’ssolar arrays, due to atomic oxygen in
the upper atmosphere, which restricts thisflight to a maximum of 120 days. Once their mission
is complete, they will board the Dragon, detachfrom the space station, enter the Earth’s atmosphere,
deploy parachutes, and finally splashdownin the Atlantic Ocean, completing the Demo-2
mission. The Dragon capsule will then be refurbished,and prepared to fly again for a future mission.
With the completion of Demo-2, SpaceX willbe fully certified to regularly fly astronauts
for NASA. The first operational flight, calledCrew-1, will be a 6 month mission to the space
station targeting a launch on August 30th,2020. Crew-1 will carry a complement of 4
astronauts, 3 being American and 1 Japanese. Looking ahead, from the Crew-2 mission early
next year onwards, Russian astronauts areexpected to start joining Dragon flights.
It’s worth pausing for a moment to reflecton just how good a deal Commercial Crew
has been. Since 2011, NASA has spent$6. 2 bn on Commercial Crew. In comparison,
the development of the Apollo command modulecost $31 bn ,
while developing the Space Shuttle Orbitercost $27 bn. So for 1/5 th the cost of these
programs, NASA helped develop 2 new human-capablespacecraft. And this capability will only
save money with each launch. Because for thelast 9 years, NASA has paid the Russian Space
Agency an average of $80 million / seat forSoyuz launches to the space station, while SpaceX’s
Crew Dragon flights will be much cheaper at$55 million / seat.
Commercial Crew has also provided valuableexperience for SpaceX, because NASA’s stringent
safety requirements specified no more thana 1 in 270 probability of a Loss of Crew event. – this is over 3x safer than the Space Shuttle. Crew
Dragon itself achieved a rating of 1 in 276,with most of the risk coming from the chance of space
debris or micrometeorite collisions in orbit. So Spacex have created the safest spacecraft in history. And because this is a commercially
owned spacecraft, they are also free tosell Crew Dragon flights to other
customers, opening up access to low EarthOrbit in an unprecedented manner.
For example, in February the company SpaceAdventures reached a deal to fly up to 4 space
tourists on a Crew Dragon in late 2021 orearly 2022. This 3-5 day mission would reach
a maximum altitude of over 1000 km, 2-3x higherthan the International Space Station, with
the participants observing Earth at a distancenot seen since the Gemini 11 mission in 1966.
Space Adventures are certainly no strangerto space tourism, having facilitated the flight
of the first space tourist, Dennis Tito, tothe space station and flights for six
others since. Space Adventures are currentlyin discussion with several interested people,
with the price per seat estimated to be lessthan $50 million.
The commercialisation of low Earth orbit willnot just be confined to trips to space, as
NASA has long-term plans to open up theInternational Space Station itself to commercial
activities. Earlier this year, NASA selectedthe company Axiom Space to design, build,
and launch three modules and an Earth observationwindow to the space station. These modules
will provide habitation for astronauts andtourists, host research and manufacturing
facilities, and test critical systems forfuture deep space missions. Axiom will start
by flying one of their own professional astronauts,and three private astronauts, on a minimum 8-day Crew
Dragon mission to the space station in thesecond half of 2021. They plan to launch their
first module in the latter half of 2024, attachingto the forward end of the space station, with
the commercial extension modules fully assembledin 2028. Once the space station retires towards
the end of the decade, the Axiom modules areplanned to detach, forming a stand-alone
commercial space station in Earth orbit. But low Earth Orbit is just the beginning.
If we want to go beyond Earth, and go sustainably,we need to scale up our space endeavours.
We need larger spacecraft, capable of carryingmore cargo and more people, if we
truly desire to live on other worlds. And this is where Starship comes in. Starship is SpaceX’s next generation launch system,a two-stage fully reusable rocket
capable of carrying over 100 tons of cargo orup to 100 people to a variety of destinations
in our solar system. The Starship system hastwo parts: a lower booster called Super Heavy,
designed to autonomously return to its launchsite during flight to enable rapid reuse,
and an upper stage spacecraft called Starship,the namesake of the system. Standing 120 m
tall, the Starship system will be the world’smost powerful rocket, with twice the thrust
of the Saturn V Moon rocket, while costingonly $2 million / launch due to rapid reusability.
The upper stage is the current focus of SpaceX’sdesign and prototype work. As currently envisioned,
it will have two configurations: cargo and crew. The cargo configuration takes advantage
of the large payload volume, 1100 m^3 – over7x that of the Falcon 9, to enable a
wide range of mission profiles. Once in orbit, Cargo Starship can open its payload
fairing like a clamshell, deploying a single payloadof up to 9 m in diameter, or multiple payloads
via a rotating deployment mechanism. Cargo Starships could also be used as orbital fuel
repositories, whereby Starships bound fordeep space missions can dock to them end-to-end
to refuel before departing on their journey. But one application I’m especially excited
by is the prospect of launching large space telescopes. I will be analysing data from the James Webb
Space Telescope when it launches next yearin order to examine the composition
of exoplanet atmospheres. And while JamesWebb will be able to probe rocky planet atmospheres,
the amount of time required to search forsignatures of life in habitable planet atmospheres
can easily add up to many hundreds of hours. So James Webb will only be able to look for life in a
small number of planet atmospheres over its missionlifetime. If we want to increase our chance
of finding life in the Universe, we need largertelescopes which have a higher sensitivity
due to their greater collecting area. One such proposal is the Large Ultraviolet, Optical,
and Infrared Surveyor, LUVOIR, a potentialsuccessor to James Webb which could launch
around 2035. LUVOIR would be a space-basedtelescope up to 15m in diameter, enabling
an extensive search for life on 54 Earth-likeplanets, and detailed studies of over 500
non-habitable planets, over the course ofits mission. If you’re interested in lerarning more
about LUVOIR, I’ve added some linksdown below in the description. But due to its large size,
no rockets currently in service can launch LUVOIR. However, the 9 m diameter fairing of Starship
would easily be able to accommodateLUVOIR in a folded configuration, with the
telescope deploying into its final 15m operationalsize after launch. Though LUVOIR is one of a number
of concepts currently being considered by NASA,its compatibility with the reusable Starship system
would serve to lower the launch cost and reducethe overall complexity of this mission.
Besides launching cargo, Starship also hasa crew configuration. Crew Starships can accommodate
up to 100 people for long duration missionsto the Moon, Mars, and perhaps beyond. They
will include private cabins, large commonareas, central storage, solar storm shelters,
and a large viewing gallery. This may sound a little like science fiction, but
SpaceX have already made extraordinary progress inbuilding and testing the first Starship prototypes.
SpaceX started building a scaled-down prototypeof Starship, called Starhopper, in December
2018. A period of testing began in March 2019,seeing a tethered hop in April, a 20 m hop
in July, and finally a 150 m hop test in August 2019. These hop tests also saw the first inflight usage
of SpaceX’s Raptor engine, developed specificallyfor Starship and Super Heavy.
The next step was to build and test full-scaleStarship prototypes. SpaceX initially built
two vehicles, called Mk 1 and Mk 2, starting in Februaryand May of 2019. The Mk 1 vehicle was assembled
over the course of 8 months at SpaceX’sBoca Chica facility in Texas, before it was
ultimately destroyed during a pressurisation testin November 2019. Around the same time, it
was recognised that the Mk 2 vehicle, whichhad started construction in
Cocoa, Florida, in May of 2019,was not flight-worthy and so was discontinued. Recognising that these first prototypes tookfar too long to build, SpaceX’s focus in
the first half of 2020 has been the creationand optimisation of a Starship production
line at their Boca Chica site. Back in January,the Boca Chica Shipyard consisted of a large
‘onion’ tent, a small tent, a windbreakerand a workshop. Fast forward 5 months to June,
and the site had undergone a colossal expansionin its production and manufacturing capabilities.
The Starship assembly area principally consistsof a series of large tents, in which stainless
steel cylindrical rings, fuel tanks, and noseconesare produced. A linear flow of these components
from tent to tent moves each part of the Starshipalong an assembly line, progressively growing
the prototype structure, culminating withvertical stacking and integration in the high
bay. This remarkably efficient assembly linehas managed to cut the production time for
Starship prototypes from 8 months down tojust 3-4 weeks for the most recent builds.
SpaceX are now working to further optimisethis pipeline, potentially down to 1 Starship
/ week by the end of the year and ultimatelyto a rate of 1 Starship every 72 hours.
The rapid expansion of Starship assembly operationshas also been enabled by a large increase
in the number of workers on the site. From about a dozen workers in early 2019, the Boca
Chica site expanded to over 500 employeesby February and is now just shy of 1,000 workers –
potentially growing to as many as 3,000 employeesby early next year.
The core reasoning behind the new buildingsand mass hirings in Boca Chica is to implement
a simple design philosophy: a high productionrate enables a high iteration rate. With each
new Starship prototype being rapidly assembled,SpaceX can continually improve the design
using lessons from those that came before. So once a prototype is complete, the next
step is to transport it around 3 km up theroad to the Starship launch and landing site,
now being used as the Starship testing area. The main constituents of the test site are:
a stand where the Starship prototypes aremounted for tests; a farm of tanks containing
liquid nitrogen, liquid methane, and liquidoxygen; the old Starhopper prototype, now
serving as a mount for cameras and a radarsystem, also a flare stack to burn excess methane,
and finally a launch pad under developmentfrom where the combined Starship and Super
Heavy rocket will eventually lift off from. Now that we’ve seen how the Starship assembly
line works, let’s take a look at the progressthe Starship testing program
has made so far in 2020. Using lessons learned from Mk 1 and Mk 2,
SpaceX started building the Mk 3 Starship,later renamed SN1 , in
October 2019. The SN1 design was a markedimprovement, weighing 20% less than the
Mk 1, but ultimately succumbed to a similar fatewhen its tanks were pressurised with cryogenic
liquid nitrogen in February 2020. These cryogenictests would prove the bane of early Starship
prototypes. In the case of SN1, the rootcause of the failure were some bad stainless-steel
welds in the ‘thrust puck’ – a structurenear the base of the lower fuel tank where
the engines would eventually be mounted. Over the course of a month, a small test tank
called SN2 was built to try out a solution. A full redesign of the thrust puck for SN2
ultimately resolved the issue, with thetank passing a cryogenic pressure test in
March 2020. SN2 was then retired, with SpaceXreturning to work on full-scale Starship prototypes.
Hopes were high with the construction of SN3in March, which went to the test stand in
April. But alas, the cryogenic curse returnedonce more, albeit via a different failure mode.
While both the lower and upper tankswere being pressurised with liquid nitrogen,
a valve inadvertently released pressure fromthe lower tank, causing SN3 to crumple due
to the weight of the pressurised upper tank. Unlike the previous structural failures with
Mk 1 and SN1, the failure of SN3 was simplya test configuration error which was quick to rectify. Just 3 weeks after the demise of SN3, in
late April, SpaceX began testing their nextprototype: SN4. On April 26th, SN4 became
the first full-scale Starship prototype tosurvive the dreaded cryogenic pressure test,
having been pressurised to 4. 9 bar with liquidnitrogen. The tank pressure required for an
operational flight is 6 bar, a target exceededby a second cryogenic test
on May 9th, which reached 7. 5 bar. Cryogenic pressurisation is the first of three
main stages in testing a Starship prototype. The second stage is a series of static fires,
whereby a Raptor engine attached to the prototypeundergoes a burn while the Starship is fixed
in place. Finally, if all goes well with thestatic fires, the prototype moves to flight
tests with ever increasing altitudes, muchlike we saw with the Starhopper.
SN4 successfully completed its first staticfire test on May 5th, becoming the first full-scale
Starship to be tested with a Raptor engine. Four further static fire tests took place over
the course of May, testing two different Raptorengines, while accruing a wealth of data on
the performance of the vehicle and the engine. But unfortunately, shortly after the fifth static fire on
May 29th, a liquid CH4 leak near the base of the vehiclecaused a catastrophic explosion which engulfed
SN4 in flames, leaving behind the smoulderingremains of this pioneering prototype. This
recent failure was an unfortunate setback,especially given that SN4 had been expected
to attempt a 150 m hop test shortly afterwards. But nevertheless, the delay is likely to be
marginal as the next prototype is more orless complete. Starship SN5 started
construction in April and isalready fully stacked, bar the potential addition
of a nosecone. As SN5 becomes the focus oftesting in the weeks to come, construction
will continue on SN6 which began productionin April. At the same time, another small
test tank, SN7, has just finished constructionand moved to the test site. SN7 has been
built from a different stainless steel alloythan previous prototypes, 304L instead of
301, so testing this prototype should elucidatethe ideal material properties to pursue before
SpaceX ultimately shifts to a custom steelalloy in the future. So what can we expect
to see in the Starship program this year?Well, with reconstruction of a test stand
essentially complete, we shouldfirst see SN5 roll out to the test stand
and commence cryogenic pressure testing andstatic fires. If these tests succeed,
SN5 would then move ahead witha 150 m hop with a single Raptor engine.
The next milestone will be a 20 kmsuborbital hop, for which the Federal Aviation
Administration has already granted approval. Such a hop will require a Starship prototype
equipped with 3 Raptor engines and fins, whichwe could see accomplished with the SN6
prototype a few months down the line. The ultimate goal of this year’s testing
program would be a 100 km orbital flight ofa Starship prototype. This is certainly an
ambitious goal, which would require the constructionand testing of Super Heavy boosters before
it could proceed, none of which have yet been built. But this being said, Super Heavy ring segments
would employ the exact same build techniquesand facilities as the Starship prototypes.
If SpaceX are to remain on track for an orbitalflight this year, we should expect to see
Super Heavy prototypes sometime in the secondhalf of this year – perhaps undoing tests
with a reduced complement of Raptor engines. And though this timeline is clearly unmatched in its
ambition, and some slips are to be expected,one thing is for certain: when the day finally
comes where a Starship soars into the skyover Texas, a new era in spaceflight will begin.
And from that day on, we will haveunlocked the limitless potential of our solar system. So now that we’ve seen the near-term future
of human spaceflight in low Earth orbit andthe progress of the next generation Starship
system, let’s turn now to the next greatendeavour in human spaceflight:
the return of astronauts to the Moon. One year ago, NASA announced the Artemis program
– a 21st Century initiative to enable humanexploration and development of the Moon. The headline goals of Artemis are to achieve a human landingnear the Moon’s South Pole by 2024 and establish
an outpost on the Moon from 2028. Unlike theApollo program, Artemis has been designed
from the get-go to be sustainable, using public-privatepartnerships, similar to the Commercial Crew
Program, to minimise the overall cost of this endeavour. The Artemis program begins with the Artemis I
mission. In late 2021, NASA’s new SpaceLaunch System, or SLS, rocket will launch
an uncrewed Orion crew capsule on a 26-42 daymission to loop around the Moon and return to Earth.
A year later, in late 2022, or early 2023,the Artemis II mission will see a crewed
flight of Orion on a free return trajectoryaround the Moon. Both Artemis I and Artemis II
will verify the hardware and software ofOrion in advance of expanded
human operations at the Moon. Around the same time as Artemis I and II,
from 2021, NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services,or CLPS, initiative will start sending
robotic missions to the Moon. The goal ofCLPS is to test landing technology, conduct
surface science, scout for lunar resources,and demonstrate in situ resource utilisation
in preparation for human landings. CLPS followsa similar model to the commercial cargo program
for the International Space Station, whereNASA will contract private companies to launch
and land the payloads on the lunar surface. One of the most important early CLPS missions
will be VIPER, a rover mission which willland in the lunar south pole region in 2023.
Why is this region the focus of the Artemis program?Well, in 2008 and 2009 both India’s
Chandrayaan-1 mission and NASA’s LCROSSmission deployed impactor probes in the south
polar region, with the resulting ejecta indicatingmillions of tons of water ice must lie in shadowed
craters near the south pole. So we know thewater ice is there on the Moon,
but many of its properties remain unknown. The goal of VIPER is to measure the depth, purity, and
distribution of water ice over a 100-day missionBecause to build a sustainable presence on the Moon,we will need to understand how to use such ice
deposits to produce breathable oxygen, rocketpropellant, and, perhaps, drinkable water.
With these early missions complete, the stagewill be set for the first human landing on
the Moon in over 50 years. In 2024, the Artemis IIImission will see an Orion capsule launch
to the Moon. In lunar orbit, two of the crewmembers will transfer into a Human Landing
System, detach from Orion, and descend tothe lunar surface. Artemis III will be a huge milestone
for human spaceflight, seeing the first womanwalk on the Moon and the first human landing
in the south polar region. The two astronautswill stay on the surface for 6. 5 days and
conduct four surface excursions of up to 6 hourseach, before launching from the surface to
re-dock with Orion and return to Earth. One of the key elements required to accomplish
Artemis III is the Human Landing System. In April, NASA announced three companies will
share nearly $1 billion to design potentialhuman-rated landers over a 10-month period:
Dynetics, the ‘National Team’ collaboration,and SpaceX. In November, NASA will start evaluating
each design, ultimately deciding whether todown-select to two providers or keep three
in February 2021. So let’s take a lookat these three proposed human landing
systems, and how they will work. Dynetics are designing a two-stage lander
called ALPACA, which would launch from Earthuncrewed on a United Launch Alliance Vulcan
rocket. ALPACA uses two drop tanks to fuelits engines, which are jettisoned prior to
touching down on the lunar surface. The National Team, led by Blue Origin, will
see Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, andDraper combine their expertise to design a
three-stage lunar lander. The lander itselfis a variant of the Blue Moon lander, announced last year
by Blue Origin, which notably uses liquid hydrogenand oxygen to power its BE-7 engine. These
fuels can be produced by electrolysing icedeposits, allowing the vehicle to refuel using
local lunar resources before taking off fromthe surface.
Finally, SpaceX are planning to use a speciallyadapted lunar lander variant of Starship.
Comparing this with the base Starship designon the right, the lunar Starship has no heatshield
or fins, a curved solar array near its tip,integrated landing legs, and white paint for
enhanced reflectivity. The lunar Starshipalso features triple-thruster engines higher
up its body, minimising the effect of regolithkickback during landing. Once landed, cargo
or up to four astronauts can leave the two airlocks 26 mabove the surface and be taken by a crane
system guided by rails down to the ground. One key advantage of the Starship system is
the large amount of cargo it can deliver,opening the possibility of ambitious
lunar base architectures. So now that we’ve seen how SpaceX are poised
to play a critical role in NASA’s effortsto return to the Moon, let’s go back to our
Starship timeline to see precisely how theyplan to support the Artemis program. For reference,
I’ve added the tentative dates for the firstthree Artemis missions to the timeline. SpaceX
have proposed a series of milestones to provethe fidelity of the Starship system. Once
orbital flight of a Starship prototype hasbeen achieved, they will demonstrate end-to-end
propellant transfer in orbit. Other milestonesinclude a long duration orbital flight test,
the re-flight of a landed Starship, and aStarship flight beyond low Earth orbit. Note
that the precise dates of these milestoneswill be largely contingent on how the testing
program in Boca Chica proceeds, so theirposition and ordering on this timeline should
be viewed as illustrative within around a1 year uncertainty window. With these tests complete,
SpaceX will aim to land an uncrewed Starshipon the Moon in 2022 and complete a flyby around
the Moon with Japanese billionaire YusakuMaezawa as part of the privately funded #dearMoon
mission in 2023. Following all these steps,SpaceX will have proved the reliability
of the Starship system to support theArtemis III landing in 2024.
From then, the focus of the Artemis programwill transition to establishing a sustained
human presence on and around the Moon. There are two key components to this plan: the
Lunar Gateway and Artemis Base Camp. Gateway will be a small station in orbit around the
Moon, serving as a staging post for astronautsmoving to and from the lunar surface and a
platform for detailed scientific investigationsbeyond Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts.
The nucleus of Gateway, consisting of an integratedPower and Propulsion Element along with a
Habitation module, is planned to launch inNovember 2023 on a commercial rocket –
probably the Falcon Heavy,but this will be decided later in the year.
The Gateway nucleus will use solar electricpropulsion to manoeuvre to lunar orbit over
the course of 9-10 months, arriving in thesecond half of 2024. If ready in time, Gateway
could potentially provide communications relaysupport for Artemis III, but currently it
is envisioned to mostly support yearly landingsfrom the Artemis IV mission in 2025 onwards.
Building on the collaboration at the heartof the International Space Station, many countries
will work alongside the US to expand the capabilitiesof Gateway with additional modules. In particular,
the European and Japanese space agencies planto contribute an international habitation
module, Canada will be providing an externalrobotic arm, and Russia is interested in providing
an airlock. These international additionsare currently envisioned to be complete by
around 2028, with the final configurationof Gateway designed for a 15 year lifespan.
Much like the International Space Stationtoday, keeping Gateway well-supplied will
be vital to maintaining its science operationsand support capabilities for human crews.
For this, NASA will offer Gateway LogisticsServices contracts to the private sector,
following the same model as the space station’scommercial cargo program. These resupply
contracts will be worth up to $7 billion over a 12-15 yeartimeframe, shared between multiple contractors.
The first award was announced in March, givento SpaceX to design a new vehicle called Dragon XL.
This will be a variant of the Cargo Dragoncapsule, launching on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy
rocket, and capable of transporting more than5 tons of cargo, experiments, and supplies to
Gateway. Once it arrives, Dragon XL will spend6-12 months docked to Gateway, before autonomously
manoeuvring to a lunar graveyard orbit. When you combine Dragon XL, the lunar Starship,
and Falcon Heavy launches for the CLPS program,it becomes clear that SpaceX is set to play
a critical role in NASA’s efforts to return to the Moon. Alongside Gateway, lunar surface operationswill expand dramatically from 2025 with the
establishment of the Artemis Base Camp. This consists of three components: the Lunar Terrain
Vehicle, the Habitable Mobility Platform,and the Foundation Surface Habitat. The Lunar
Terrain Vehicle will extend the range of humansurface exploration, being capable of transporting
two astronauts and materials weighing 500 kgfor at least 2 km. Next, the Habitable Mobility
Platform will be a pressurised rover capableof extending human expeditions to 10s of km
from the landing site and extending surfacedurations from a week to 30-45 days. Finally,
the Foundational Surface Habitat will supportup to four crew members for stays of up to two months. These initial components of the Artemis Base
Camp are envisioned to be in place by 2028. Though a specific site for the base has yet
to be determined, promising locations couldbe near crater rims at the lunar south pole
some of which receive sunlight for 80% of theyear – helping to reduce temperature extremes
and maximise solar power potential. During stays at the base, astronauts will test new
technologies, including surface power systems,in situ resource utilisation, excavation and
construction techniques, and lunar dust mitigation. Over time, the base will be expanded to add
communications systems, a lightweight fissionpower system, radiation shielding, waste disposal,
and a landing pad. One possibility that I’m especially excited
by is the prospect of remotely operating alunar radio telescope on the farside of the
Moon from the Artemis Base. In April, NASAselected an idea along just these lines for
a Phase I Innovative Advanced Concepts study. The central case is that radio wavelengths
longer than around 10 m are incredibly difficultto study from Earth’s surface, because they
are reflected off the ionosphere. But a radioobservatory on the Moon would have no such
problems, opening a new window on the Universe. For example, such a telescope would be able
to measure the magnetic field strength ofexoplanets by searching for their corresponding
radio emission. At the end of the day, one of the central
goals of all this lunar infrastructure isto develop technologies and learn lessons which
can be directly applied to human missions to Mars. One proposal is to add a large inflatable
habitat to Gateway to simulate a Mars mission. This would see four astronauts spend
a few months living in this habitat, simulatingthe outbound trip to Mars, before two crew
members descend to the lunar surface to visitthe Base Camp for surface operations.
After which they would return to the Gateway andspend another few months in the inflatable
habitat to simulate the return to Earth. So now that we’ve seen the future of human
spaceflight in low Earth orbit, the developmentof the Starship vehicle, and the plans to
sustainably return to the Moon, let’s finallytake a look at how these will all come together
to enable human missions to Mars. If we want to land the first people on Mars
within this decade, the only vehicle whichwill have the necessary capabilities and be
ready on time will be SpaceX’s Starship system. Indeed, the founding principle behind the
Starship project was to enable a self-sufficientsociety on Mars. SpaceX’s Mars mission architecture
follows a series of 6 steps. We’ve alreadyseen the process of launching a Starship into
orbit and landing the Super Heavy booster,along with on-orbit refuelling. For a Mars
mission, with a surface payload of up to 100 tons,as many as 4 tanker Starships will be involved
in refuelling operations. After which, theStarship, or group of Starships, depart on a
multi-month transfer to Mars. On arrival, the Starship plummets into the
Martian atmosphere, orienting itself to maximiseits surface area and increase drag. The heat
from this supersonic entry is absorbed bythe hexagonal heatshield tiles on the underside
of the vehicle. After surviving atmosphericentry, the Starship falls like a skydiver
with the wings and fins helping controlthe descent. Finally, it reorients itself
vertically and ignites its Raptor enginesto arrive at the landing site.
The target landing site will most likely be ArcadiaPlanitia, as discussed in detail in my October
Mars Mission Update last year. Once landed,each Starship can connect to a propellant
plant which produces the liquid CH4 and O2 fuel forthe Raptor engines from ice deposits and CO2
from the Martian atmosphere. This enablesStarships to readily return to Earth once refuelled. To chart a course for the first human Mars
missions, let’s go back to our Starship timelineand add the Earth-Mars launch windows which
occur every 26 months. The first goal willbe to send two uncrewed Cargo Starships to
Mars, aiming to confirm water ice resources,identify hazards, and place basic infrastructure
including power, mining, and life support systems. Starship’s large payload capacity
has clear advantages over any other systemcurrently in development for such a mission,
as it increases redundancy by allowing multipleinstances of vital hardware to be brought
along and allows for large-scale future expansionto be planned from the very first mission.
SpaceX has been targeting 2022 for this cargoopportunity for many years now, but given
this is only 2 years away and SpaceX may wantto apply lessons from their lunar Starship
missions, I’ve added a 5 year uncertaintywindow to the timeline to cover the possibility
of slips by two launch windows. If all goes well with the cargo mission, it
would be followed in the next launch windowby the first human mission to Mars. This would
see two Crew Starships, each carrying 20-50people, and 2 Cargo Starships land in separated
location within a few km of each other. Thissuggests that a heavy cargo and crew transportation
rover will need to be developed, perhaps similarto the Habitable Mobility Platform envisioned
for the Artemis Base Camp. The priority ofthis mission will be to make operational a
propellant production plant to refuel theStarships. The crewed mission will also focus
on establishing the infrastructure ofMars Base Alpha, including habitats, radiation
shelters, greenhouses, and landing pads. Theplan is for the first five Starships to stay
on Mars indefinitely, providing initial habitationspace, though the capability to return to
Earth with a Starship will be available. Given that the initial crews will likely need
to reside on Mars for at least 26 months,self-sufficiency will be absolutely crucial.
The base will need to be able to extract over1 ton of ice per day to produce drinkable water
and air for the base, with this ice needingto be both accessible and amenable to purification.
This is another key area where in situ resourceutilisation experiments on CLPS and Artemis
missions can provide valuable input for MarsBase Alpha’s design. Self-sufficiency will
also require the extraction and processingof minerals and metals, such that structural
materials can be created for base repair andexpansion. Back on Earth, during the
build up to each subsequent launch window,many additional Starships will be launched into orbit.
If we want to create a civilisationon Mars, as many as 3 Starships per day will
need to be launched, assembling a fleetof 1,000 Starships over the course
of a year. The fleet will depart over a 30 dayperiod when the launch window arrives,
carrying 10s of thousands of people tothe Red Planet.
The ultimate goal of this ambitious endeavouris to create a city on Mars with 1 million
people by as soon as 2050. Designing sucha city is one area where considerable work
remains to be done. But one organisation thathas been trying to fill the gap here is the
Mars Society. In 2018, they announced a competitionto design a 1,000 person Mars colony. The
100 entries contained some truly innovativedesigns, with the 22 most promising submissions
recently published as a book. Right now, theMars Society are running a second competition,
this time to design a 1 million person MartianCity State. Anyone in the world is welcome
to submit a design before the end of June,so if you have an idea and you’re interested,
I’ll post a link to the competition down below. Well, that brings us to the end of this
Mars Mission Update. The return of human spaceflight
to the US is an incredible achievement butas we’ve seen, it is just one step in our
journey. A decade of work realised this dream,and I wish all the best to Bob and Doug on
their historic mission. Thank you so muchfor watching everyone, and please do let me know
if you have any questions or comments down below. And never forget that our best days
do truly lie ahead of us. Human ingenuity will always carry us
through, and it will guide us as weventure out to explore the wonders of our solar system. If you enjoyed this video, you might
also enjoy my Mars Bunker series –a collection of livestreams exploring all manner
of topics surrounding missions to Mars. To make sure you don’t miss future videos, hit
subscribe and click the notification bell,to stay up to date with all the latest developments
in our journey to the Red Planet.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

×