What are the mission costs? Arno Wielders and the technical aspects of Mars One’s mission
by Natasha Schön on Wednesday, 29th 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.
Why is Mars One’s mission cost lower than other planned missions to Mars?
‘Spaceflight is hard’ is an expression heard many times before. To us it means that a lot of capital is needed to make this mission a reality. However, there are a few reasons why spaceflight for Mars One could be cheaper than the quotes provided by governmental studies in the past. First of all, Mars One does not need to develop all the systems and procedures for bringing people back. Secondly, in order to make a comparison, NASA has looked at what it would cost to develop the Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon capsule in a NASA standard way and the result was that it would cost NASA 8-10 times more than SpaceX has spent to develop those vehicles. Also, when a development is carried out in a commercial environment, cost is a more important factor than in a governmental environment. The company Bigelow Aerospace is developing habitats for use in space and the surface of either the Moon or Mars. The associated costs for those developments are provided through private means. The key test for their habitats has been done with the successful BEAM module expansion in May 2016 while attached to the ISS.
Furthermore, we do not need to launch people from the surface of Mars, which makes a huge difference in cost. One of the key reasons why there hasn’t been a Mars Sample Return mission yet is because of how difficult it is to even launch a sample of 1 kg from the surface of Mars.
Also, we plan on hiring specialists to develop and build the spaceflight systems, which results in less costs than the traditional way which is when government agencies are primarily leading the development instead of following and buying a service. Mars One is not claiming to currently have the same knowhow as companies that are specialists. Our projects are going to be subcontracted to companies who have been involved in spaceflight for a long time.
The difference between our mission costs compared to other organizations still remains to be seen, however based on our first estimates we think 6 billion is needed for the first four people to fly. Of course, Mars One will continue to detail the cost estimates to get a higher fidelity. This means that total cost might change, but certainly not by a large factor.
What are the launch costs?
Launch costs will continue to fall as we reach the 2020’s. SpaceX, Blue Origin, ULA, smaller companies like Firefly, RocketLab, and many more are working to increase competition in launching mass into Earth orbit. This will only continue and become more frantic in the late 2010s. Additional new players will rise and increase the competition in launching mass from the surface of the Earth. The same will happen with the spacecraft needed to land a complete system on the surface of Mars to ensure the build-up of a thriving community. The initial cost to develop the capsule will be high, but those costs will decrease for recurring missions. Furthermore, in Mars One’s plan the capsules and spacecraft will be tested like others before, but due to the unique method of bringing equipment to the surface of Mars throughout 6-8 missions, the capsules will be thoroughly tested. The capsule that will be used by the humans to land on Mars will be very similar to the ones used for landing cargo, which means that the capsule will have proven its flight worthiness before humans will use it.
Who will be designing, building, and testing mission hardware?
One of the key features of the Mars One programme is that Mars One is not designing, building and testing the required hardware for bringing people to Mars. We have recently had contracts with Lockheed Martin and Paragon Space Development Corporation to look at our first mission and life support systems respectively. Lockheed Martin has been contributing to 90% of all the NASA missions to Mars in the last 30 years and have the most experience in bringing payloads to Mars. Paragon has been involved in studies and hardware projects for NASA, and involved with commercial spaceflight providers for the last 20 years. They are viewed as the experts in life support systems. In the programmes that these companies are involved in they are using the same standards and procedures that are used in NASA projects. So whatever project these companies will be doing for Mars One, they will have standards and procedures for proper hardware development.