Mars Exchange
What kind of technology is required? Arno Wielders and the technical aspects of Mars One’s mission

What kind of technology is required? Arno Wielders and the technical aspects of Mars One’s mission

by Natasha Schön on Monday, 6th June 2016 in Inside 360, People, Arno Wielders, Technology

Arno Wielders, co-founder and CTO of Mars One, currently divides his time between Mars One and working at the European Space Technology and Research Centre (ESTEC) of the European Space Agency as a payload study manager for new planetary mission studies. In this and other subsequent stories, Arno Wielders addresses some of the questions surrounding the technical aspects of Mars One's mission to Mars.

There’s a lot of excitement surrounding our mission to bring humans to Mars and to establish a viable close to self-sustaining human settlement.  We understand that we have taken on one of the most difficult and challenging tasks ever conceived in human history.  However, we look forward to tackling this difficult and complex project that will inspire generations to come.

Why did you become involved with Mars One?

One of the major reasons why I became involved in founding Mars One is that the promises regarding a human mission to Mars made by space agencies in the early 80s never materialised. Even now, the plan to send humans to Mars is still 30 years from now, just as it was in the 80s.  Bringing humans to Mars needs to be accomplished within 12-15 years, since this time period is optimal for return on investments, helps keep people captivated, and helps companies involved to take the mission seriously. In my opinion, a private organization like Mars One needs to propose a radical plan in order for this to happen within that time period. Mars One’s plan is clear. Do we think that this plan will be static? Of course not. The plan will change over the course of time, and we will incorporate the knowledge and experience gained from studies organized by Mars One and developments by other space organizations. New information will help mature the plan and ensure that the mission will be a success. Will we make mistakes in the process? Yes we will, like so many other complex and challenging projects, we will make errors. We will use those errors to our advantage in order to improve the mission and to increase our contractor’s confidence in the plan.

Why is Mars One’s mission feasible?  

One of the key reasons why we think this project is feasible is the fact that we plan to use technologies that already exist and that only need to be developed and adapted to Martian conditions and autonomous operations. All the basic technologies and physical processes for developing the required systems exist. There are two important examples of this statement.

Firstly, landing larger masses on the surface of Mars can be done using rocket propulsion for most of the descent. The required technology has been matured by SpaceX in their programme to land the first stage on a platform in the ocean and later on land. The environment in which the rocket engine of the first stage is started and run is very similar to atmospheric conditions encountered in landing propulsively on Mars. SpaceX is now confident enough to try to land a Dragon version 2 capsule on the surface of Mars in 2018.  We have not only witnessed  three successful landings of the first stage, but also successful operations of the rocket engines in the supersonic regime of the flight. This is exactly what is needed to land larger masses on Mars just like Mars One is planning. Even better, the supersonic flight is being done in an atmospheric pressure which is not unlike Mars. This demonstrates that we do have the technology to perform rocket burns in this high speed regime, however time is needed to develop this technology into the actual lander used in our missions.

Secondly, another required system that has already been developed is life support systems. We know that the key technologies for these systems work because Paragon has clearly shown this in their ECLSS report. We also know that in situ usage of water and other materials is key in order to make the colony viable in the short and long run. Not only that, the development of these systems will be easier for Mars than the ISS since Mars has some gravity, making the used processes much more Earth-like. Furthermore, Mars One will ensure that all these systems are tested so that they are able to detect as many as reasonably possible errors in the systems and to improve them as needed.

Will Mars One experience any mission delays?

The feasibility of the mission is not the only thing we have to take into account.  When space programmes begin planning a mission, certain margins to cover delays are always considered. Delays can occur when the programme suffers from technical difficulties such as unexpected problems in qualifying a technology for spaceflight, which is a delicate, long and sometimes expensive issue. Other programmes suffer from delays due to insufficient funding or from adjusted political priorities. At Mars One, delays have occurred due to the fact that we have not been able to secure enough funding for the large steps ahead of us in our programme. Of course, finding funds is currently our top priority, but difficulties can not always be predicted. Delays are a natural part of space programmes that are as complex and delicate as Mars One, however we are working hard to minimise any future delays.

How will the mass and power of required systems be determined?

We expect an increase in our confidence in the numbers surrounding the mass and power of the required systems. Current mass estimates are done on a conceptual level and each time we fund a study or hardware development we know the numbers will change. Just like any other space project, we will adapt or change our mission plan to fit the new numbers as needed. Mass is always quite volatile in a space mission and ours will not be different. When money starts to flow into Mars One more frequently, we will be able to release many more studies that provide more insights into what our mission will look like. Experienced people from the spaceflight industry will be hired to lead these studies and to ensure that they fit into the overall Mars One mission.

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