Mars Exchange
Mars One interviews Grant Anderson and Barry Finger from Paragon about ECLSS

Mars One interviews Grant Anderson and Barry Finger from Paragon about ECLSS

by Natasha Schön on Friday, 12th February 2016 in Inside 360, Paragon, Technology

Paragon Space Development Corporation is a premier provider of environmental controls for extreme and hazardous environments. Mars One contracted Paragon to complete the initial conceptual design of the Surface Habitat Environmental Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS) due to their specialization in engineering and manufacturing thermal control and life support systems with a specific focus on extreme environments. In this Mars Exchange interview, we asked Grant Anderson (GA), President and CEO of Paragon Space Development Corporation, and Barry Finger (BF), Paragon Chief Engineer, Director of Life Support Systems, some questions about the ECLSS study they completed for Mars One.

Could you tell us, in brief, what the study Paragon has recently concluded for Mars One is about?

(BF)      Sure; we (Paragon) were asked to do the conceptual design of the environmental control and life support system for the Mars One surface habitat. This system maintains the atmosphere, provides a safe and comfortable environment so the oxygen, temperature and humidity is at the right level, and makes sure that the pressure is at the requested level, CO2 is removed, and trace contaminants like methane, and ammonia (which is released when you sweat), are removed from the atmosphere. It also keeps the water clean; not only for the crew to drink and consume as food, but also for the systems that use water. There are systems that split water into oxygen that is inhaled by the crew, and it turns out that the water has to be pretty clean for those machines to work reliably. There are also systems that maintain the temperature and thermal environment. There is a lot of equipment inside the habitat that gets hot and that heat needs to be collected, moved, and rejected into the external environment. Another system is in-situ resource utilization, which is where the astronauts would go out to the Martian environment and extract useful products. Specifically for this mission, these useful products include water from the regolith--the soil on Mars--and argon and nitrogen extracted from the atmosphere.

(GA)     The interesting thing about this program is that humans are involved. This means you have waste products, urines, feces, that you have to be able to recycle so you don't have to extract too much from the environment for replacing water and oxygen.

What system or technology developments are needed for the life support system that Mars One will need for their human settlement?

 (BF)      For us, the key point is that the technologies themselves exist. There are life support processes that exist now and that are on the International Space Station, which is a starting point for a lot of the technologies. However, all of the systems for the life support system are going to need development. The technologies have to be advanced to a level and to a configuration that is optimized for the Mars One mission. The physical processes that need to be utilized to make this mission happen, and the materials it takes to build the equipment, all exist. But, as outlined before, what still has to be done is to do the applied engineering to develop products that will do what they need to do in the Martian environment.

(GA)     It is about making sure that the systems will last for the timeframe that we want, which is almost forever, and to make sure that they are maintainable and regenerable by the humans working with them. It is all about the implementation of that technology.

(BF)      We should point out that we are talking about thermal control and life support systems. There are other aspects of the mission that are not part of what we do, like entry, descent and landing. There are other issues that people have to work on to get the mass and volume of hardware down to the surface, but for the environmental control and life support system, we have what it takes right now, the existing processes and technologies, for humans to go out and undertake a mission like this.

 Are there any important changes needed to the original Mars One technical plan based on this study?

(BF)      When we were asked to do this conceptual design, we were almost given free reign. Mars One had some initial targets for what they thought should be included such as how much volume it might be, and how much it might weigh. They were really looking to implement the plant growth early and rely on that for life support systems. In the work that we've done to date, we were pretty much insistent that for credibility, and to really get to an engineered solution early, we had to go with physiochemical life support. Another thing is that the mass and volume of the hardware systems for the life support system are higher than their targets were, so that is maybe a challenge to their program plan, but at the end of the day, it's about that transportation of material to the surface of the planet, not some fundamental technical problem.

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