Moon or Mars: Why not both?

Boeing lunar lander
A human return to the Moon could be done with commercial or international capabilities, without jeopardizing a government-led humans-to-Mars program. (credit: Boeing)

Moon or Mars: Why not both?

by Chris Carberry, Joe Cassady, and Rick Zucker
Monday, September 25, 2017

The Trump Administration has an unprecedented opportunity to set the United States on a path that would exceed President John F. Kennedy’s legendary challenge to our nation to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth. Through a combination of innovative thinking, public-private partnerships, and new incentives, commercial (and potentially international) activities on the surface of the Moon may very well be stimulated, while simultaneously moving forward with sending initial human missions to the surface of Mars by the early 2030s.

As an example, earlier this year President Trump signed into law the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, which contains the strongest language requiring human missions to Mars ever to be placed in a piece of legislation. This bipartisan bill was enacted after many years of growing momentum and consensus building.

Unfortunately, recently there has been a worrisome drumbeat emanating from some quarters that calls for the United States to return to the Moon at the expense of Mars. That is, some of these voices have advocated sidelining Mars indefinitely. To abandon Mars as the overarching goal of United States space policy, however, would be a huge mistake, and in the end, it could very well undermine lunar aspirations as well.

We should not be asking ourselves, “Should we go to the Moon or to Mars?” Instead, we should be asking, “How can we achieve both goals?” Advocates for a return to the Moon and advocates for human missions to Mars are often portrayed as though they adhere to diametrically opposed ideologies, but this is not accurate. The divide between these groups is artificial and results from limited budgets and inconsistent policy. In fact, the vast majority of people in the space industry, advocacy, and other relevant arenas share the same overarching goal, to have humanity move beyond low Earth orbit once again.

Commercial and international interest in lunar exploration and utilization has been steadily growing for years, and we welcome the participation of commercial lunar operators, who have argued that the Moon presents potential business opportunities. Assuming that a business case can be made for such activities, such proposals conform well to our longstanding view that NASA’s role should be to establish the outer boundaries and push the frontiers of human exploration, for which Mars is the acknowledged horizon goal.

While commercial interests can and should follow behind NASA, such enterprises, in order to be successful, must utilize space in a manner that produces sufficient profits that will justify the investment made in such pursuits. This includes paying the costs associated with developing the necessary landers, mining equipment, other infrastructure, and so on. That commercial interests have expressed a willingness to step up and spend their own funds to explore the potential of lunar resources bodes well for the further success of public-private partnerships in space. Mars exploration craft could provide commercial lunar interests with a ready market for their lunar-produced products, such as hydrogen and oxygen if commercial lunar enterprises can show that they are able to produce and deliver such products at a reasonable price.

The debate that has occurred between the two as to the “next destination” in space is the result of budgetary constraints and lack of political will, but in reality, the two are not mutually exclusive.
However, these commercial activities must not become a barrier or prerequisite for going to Mars. NASA’s efforts to develop Mars capabilities in the lunar orbital environment can help facilitate these commercial partners’ goal of reaching the lunar surface. These are but two examples of how the commercial sector can participate and benefit from NASA’s planned Mars development, such as through a resource like the Deep Space Gateway.

This unified process would unite supporters and stakeholders of both Mars exploration and lunar surface activities. The debate that has occurred between the two as to the “next destination” in space is the result of budgetary constraints and lack of political will, but in reality, the two are not mutually exclusive. Given the choice, most people in the space exploration community would not reject an opportunity to achieve both goals (and more) as long as both can be accomplished in a timely and sustainable manner.

The United States is well-positioned to once again venture beyond the confines of Low Earth Orbit and continue where the Apollo program left off, but key decisions need to be made in the near term, consistent and adequate budgets need to be maintained, and space policy must remain focused and objective oriented. With a mandate from the Administration and Congress, NASA along with our nation’s commercial and international partners can lead us into a pivotal and epic new age in human history.

Chris Carberry is CEO, Explore Mars, Inc. Joe Cassady is Executive Vice President, Explore Mars, Inc. Rick Zucker is Vice President, Policy, Explore Mars, Inc.

Aerojet Rocketdyne Advocates Solar Electric Propulsion as Central Element of Deep Space Exploration

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2017 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Aerojet Rocketdyne, the nation’s premiere propulsion provider and a subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:AJRD), advocates Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) as a central element of America’s deep space architecture.

During testimony before the Subcommittee on Space in the U.S. House of Representatives, Joe Cassady, executive director for Space Programs at Aerojet Rocketdyne, said, “SEP is key to a sustainable architecture by enabling efficient transfer of cargo, habitats and payloads to deep space destinations in advance of astronaut arrival.”

SEP systems have between 6 and 10 times the propellant efficiency (specific impulse) of traditional chemical propulsion systems. More than 200 commercial, civil, national security and defense spacecraft are currently flying SEP for stationkeeping, repositioning and orbit-raising.

Aerojet Rocketdyne is currently working on three separate high-power electric propulsion systems for NASA: NEXT-C xenon ion engine for planetary missions; Advanced Electric Propulsion System (AEPS) for deep space cargo missions; and NASA’s NextSTEP 100kW Nested Hall Thruster for future technology insertion.

Cassady emphasized the need to take advantage of strategic logistics planning in the journey to Mars. He used the analogy of military deployment to the SEP approach for Mars cargo, saying, “Heavy equipment, supplies, and other logistical items are pre-deployed by large cargo ships and planes to the region. Then, once the equipment, barracks, etcetera are ready, the troops follow by faster air transport. SEP systems are equivalent to cargo ships for deep space missions.”

Approximately 75 percent of the mass required for human missions to Mars can be transported using SEP, thereby reducing the number of launches required. Additionally, the SEP systems under development now by NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne can reduce the amount of propellant needed for deep space missions by a factor of 10.

“As NASA looks to expand human presence in the solar system, starting with missions to lunar orbit and onto Mars, development of efficient in-space transportation systems is critical,” added Cassady. “We are well on our way to having efficient in-space transportation with SEP. We must continue to adequately fund these development efforts to ensure that we will have the first human footprints on Mars in the 2030s.”

Aerojet Rocketdyne is an innovative company delivering solutions that create value for its customers in the aerospace and defense markets. The company is a world-recognized aerospace and defense leader that provides propulsion and energetics to the space, missile defense and strategic systems, tactical systems and armaments areas, in support of domestic and international markets. Additional information about Aerojet Rocketdyne can be obtained by visiting our websites at www.Rocket.com and www.AerojetRocketdyne.com.

Original Article

Are lunar fuel depots needed for Mars missions?

by Chris Carberry and Rick Zucker

As a new administration prepares to take office, speculation abounds regarding what direction US space policy will take after the transition, as well as who will assume leadership roles at NASA and in other influential positions. Within this context, rumors are swirling regarding whether our nation will turn away from Mars and instead focus exclusively on the Moon.

One of the central arguments being advocated for “major” lunar activities is the unfortunately misguided notion that the construction of fuel depots on the lunar surface is a necessary precursor to eventual human missions to Mars. The reality, however, is that it’s not clear if there are necessary resources on the Moon that can be used for missions to Mars. In other words, it is questionable whether the enormous expenditure of time and resources that would be required to build up the required infrastructure on the Moon to utilize those resources would actually have any clear benefit to human Mars exploration. Thus, that diversion to the Moon would likely delay human missions Mars by decades or even by generations, and could very well delay other valuable lunar activities as well. In contrast, by aiming for Mars, we might very well get the Moon as a side benefit for the same cost.
Even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that such a process is feasible and could move forward, the costs of the experimental phase and then actually building a functioning production facility and operations are unknown. It would be safe to assume, however, that it would not be an inexpensive proposition. There is also the issue of storing hydrogen and oxygen, probably in liquid form; storing such supercool liquids for extended periods is known as a major technical challenge yet to be addressed.Reports from recent NASA missions have indicated that there is probably some quantity of water ice in the lunar polar regions, in craters that are permanently in shadow from the Sun.

Unfortunately, it is unknown how much ice is there, or what form it is in, or how difficult it will be to extract it. Because of the conditions inherent in those particular regions, prospecting there would not be a task that we would assign to astronauts to perform—and robots may have a hard time operating due to the extreme cold and other hazards. We would certainly have to send many robotic explorers, of a technical complexity not yet attained. Significant experimentation would be required with various techniques that would almost certainly take years, and that would just serve to establish whether or not these regions are a realistic option for fuel generation in the first place.

Then, we would need to get this fuel off the lunar surface to make it accessible to Mars-bound (or other) missions, which would require yet another complex architecture on the surface of the Moon. Launching this hypothetical fuel into space from the Moon would be adding yet another gravity well to overcome. In total, this process would certainly be far more complex and expensive than sending humans to Mars using current mission architecture concepts. Indeed, current NASA Mars mission architectures rely to a great extent on solar electric propulsion, which does not use hydrogen or oxygen as a propellant.

It is also difficult to see a business case or a sufficient return on investment for such fuel depots on the Moon in the near term, aside from the issue of going on to Mars. At least in the foreseeable future, any customer of such depots would be limited to government entities, and even that is far from certain. This would essentially be a case of the “cart being put before the horse.” It would be risky in the extreme to spend all this money up front on infrastructure, essentially betting the house, with such a questionable likelihood of an actual payoff. We can see humans on Mars within the next couple of decades, but we won’t if we wait for a scenario to develop that will, even under the best of circumstances, delay sending humans to Mars.
The fact that the near-term value of lunar fuel depots is questionable does not mean that lunar missions in general should not be encouraged. Limited near-term lunar missions, based on international and US exploration objectives, can have value, but should be done with the goal of moving on to Mars on a clear and aggressive schedule. If private/commercial entities and/or other interests want to build a lunar base and fuel depots, then that should happen independently and on self-sufficient terms. That scenario would be a great accomplishment in its own right and would also likely be based on need. It should not, however, attempt to justify itself, and the required massive technology development project that it would entail, in the guise of enabling human Mars missions.

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Why Mars? To Discover How Life Originates

by Ramses Ramirez Planetary scientist and astrobiologist, Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell University

VALLES MARINERIS, MARS – Mars’ own Grand Canyon, Valles Marineris, is shown on the surface of the planet in this composite image made aboard NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft. The image was taken from a video featuring high-resolution images from Arizona State University’s Thermal Emission Imaging System multi-band camera on board the spacecraft. The mosaic was then colored to approximate how Mars would look to the human eye. Valles Marineris is 10 times longer, five times deeper and 20 times wider than Earth’s Grand Canyon. (Photo by NASA/Arizona State University via Getty Images)

In 1964, Mariner 4 became the first spacecraft to successfully arrive at Mars. While some scientists of the time were expecting a world much like our own, one filled with rivers, oceans, and maybe even life, Mariner’s images instead unveiled a heavily-cratered surface, not unlike the Moon’s. That’s why it was such a surprise when later NASA missions, such as Viking, benefiting from improved technology, revealed a martian landscape more like our Earth’s. These newer images showed large fluvial features in ancient terrains, including the ancient river valley networks, inferred to have formed nearly 4 billion years ago. Therefore, many have argued that Mars may have once possessed a warmer climate, perhaps with a thicker atmosphere that could have supported potentially habitable conditions. Such a warmer early Mars may have been more “Earth-like” in many ways. So, it may be natural to wonder: How Earth-like does a planet need to be to host life? Did Mars ever have life? Does Mars have life now? Scientists operating on Mars could address these and similar questions that ultimately stem from one overriding question: Are we alone in the universe?

A comparison (to scale) of portions of the Grand Canyon (a) and Nanedi Valles (b), one of the ancient martian valley networks.

The size and scope of the ancient martian valley networks are impressive. Often hundreds of meters deep, and extending for hundreds of kilometers, these immense fluvial features likely required a climate that was warm enough, at least transiently, to have produced enough rain (or snow) to carve them. These valleys would have been difficult to form in a cold climate because much of the water would have been present as ice instead. To be fair, salty water ― known as brines ― perhaps flowing from underground sources, could remain in liquid form at below freezing temperatures. However, it is difficult to envision how a sufficient volume of briny flows to form these massive features could be produced in a cold climate with little precipitation. If the atmosphere was also significantly thinner than the Earth’s, even if surface life had arisen in such a cold climate, that life would have had to contend with less protection from harmful radiation.

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Why Mars? – A Perspective From The United Arab Emirates

Multiple nations now have Mars in their sights as one of the most challenging goals humans can imagine. Here, Talal M. Al Kaissi of the United Arab Emirates explains why his country is one of the most recent to join the effort to explore Mars.

KARIM SAHIB VIA GETTY IMAGES
Sarah Amiri, deputy project manager of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Mars Mission, stands on stage during a ceremony to unveil the mission on May 6, 2015 in Dubai.

“We chose the epic challenge of reaching Mars because epic challenges inspire us and motivate us. The moment we stop taking on such challenges is the moment we stop moving forward.”

When His Highness Shiekh Mohamed Bin Rashed Al Maktoum, the UAE’s Vice President, Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai made that proclamation, it was July of 2014, and the UAE was 43 years old. The comment was made shortly after the establishment of the UAE Space Agency. At that point, the UAE’s investments in the “space” sector had already exceeded $5 billion, including Al Yah Satellite Communications Company (YAHSAT) and Thuraya, which specialize in satellite telecommunication. Another UAE entity (EIAST) had even built and launched two earth observations satellites. The UAE was far along on its path to diversify its economy away from hydrocarbons, with approximately 70 percent of the country’s GDP represented by non-oil based activities. With the global financial crisis finally beginning to recede, the country decided to aim even higher. In that spirit, 2021 was set as the target year to have the spacecraft achieve Martian orbit, to coincide with the country’s 50th year anniversary. And as though six and a half years was not ambitious enough, roughly a year will need to be shaved off to complete preparations by the launch window in 2020.

So “Why Mars?” Those who recall U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s speech in 1962, later dubbed “the Kennedy Moonshot,” understand how inspirational a simple message can be: “Not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” The U.S. was 186 years old at the time. Of course, Sputnik and the Cold War may have contributed to the drive behind that goal. The UAE’s objective, while similar in its attempt to galvanize inspiration, rests on a different motivation.

Anyone who has followed the UAE over the last two decades understands that while it is a small nation in a geographic region that is more notable for unfortunate geopolitical issues, the country stands out for a number of reasons: Its visionary leadership and good governance, its advanced first class infrastructure and position as an important logistical hub, and perhaps most importantly, a solid commitment by the government to providing education for every citizen.

The result is evident in the 200 nationalities that coexist in a country the size of the state of Maine, whose population is just under 10 million people (with roughly 10 percent UAE nationals) and where most Fortune 100 multinational companies have a regional headquarters. With recently inaugurated federal Ministries of Tolerance, Happiness, and Youth, the UAE is a pioneer regionally as well as globally in effective government and business promotion. Many sectors, including tourism, logistics, aviation, heavy industry and technology have been part of the economic diversification process, utilizing the comparative and competitive advantage the UAE holds. In that regard, the UAE’s entrance into the space sector was an inevitable eventuality and has garnered a lot of attention in the past two years.

The Emirates Mars Mission, called “Hope”, has a few main high-level objectives.

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