The task of manned flyby of Mars was set by President Barack Obama back in 2010 year. Then he outlined the following plan of action for NASA: by 2025, to make a manned flight to an asteroid nearby to Earth, in the middle of 2030, to Mars, after which the landing mission will follow. For the time being, we can say that NASA as a whole fits within the target dates. At the same time, the agency plans not just to fly around the Red Planet, but to visit its natural satellite Phobos.
To date, the agency has identified six key elements required for a mission to Mars, including landing. These are the heavy SLS carrier, the Orion spacecraft, the Transheb residential module (for flight along the Earth-Mars-Earth route), the landing module, the take-off stage and the solar-electric propulsion system (SEP). According to one of the preliminary estimates, it will be necessary to deliver tons of cargo and equipment from 15 to 20 to the surface of the Red Planet to ensure the first landing of people on its surface. However, NASA representatives voiced the figure in 30 and more tons, taking into account the fact that the weight of one projected takeoff stage alone will be 18 tons, and the weight of the landing module will be at least 20 tons. To send these elements into space, you need at least 6 heavy / super heavy SLS media launches from 70 to 130 tons. In order to save time and money on the development and production of this "heavy truck", NASA used the technology and technology left over from the space shuttles, including the engines, fuel tank and solid fuel accelerators of the shuttles.
The elements of the Martian complex will be assembled in a bundle not in near-Earth orbit, but at the Lagrange point L-2. It is located one and a half million kilometers from Earth, behind the far side of the Moon, in 61 500. This point is considered an ideal place for the construction of space complexes, because it balances the forces of gravity of the Earth and the Sun, which provides a "construction site", which is practically not exposed to external gravitational effects. NASA calls the L-2 nothing more than a “test site”, emphasizing that not only the assembly will be carried out there, but also the testing of the Martian technology.
The American and international media have repeatedly, including with reference to some sources at NASA, mentioned the possibility of returning Americans to the moon as part of the preparation of the Martian expedition. But now the question is not worth it. As John Logsdon, one of the leading US experts in space policy, told the VIEW VIEW newspaper, the creation of a lunar landing module is not part of NASA’s plans. It is not excluded, however, the possibility that the European Space Agency (ESA) will decide on the implementation of the flight to the moon. And in the event that ESA builds a landing module, the US may participate in a European lunar project, possibly by providing SLS to deliver this module to a natural satellite of the Earth.
Three steps to Mars
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NASA called its first step "leaning on Earth." It includes the development of the necessary operations and the accumulation of the required experience in Earth orbit using the ISS. In addition, as part of this step, the agency is developing ways and methods of using available Martian resources (ISRU) to obtain fuel and other necessary materials. The exercise is very useful if you consider that 18 tons of fuel will be required for the 33-ton take-off stage, and NASA intends to extract it from the carbon dioxide and water on the Red Planet.
The second step is called the “test site,” which, as already noted, is located at the L-2 point. With the help of an automatic vehicle, it is planned to capture a nearby asteroid, which will be transferred to this point, where it will be surveyed by the crew of the Orion spacecraft.
The third step was called "independent of the Earth." We are already talking about the direct study and development of the Red Planet. It includes life on Mars, the intensive use of Martian resources, as well as the regular transfer to Earth of scientific information obtained through advanced communication systems.
The role of "Orion" is worth more details. Despite the fact that it looks like an enlarged version of the classic Apollo-type disposable ship (sometimes Orion is jokingly called Apollo on steroids), the new taxi for NASA astronauts will be reusable - it is planned to use the same descent vehicle ship up to ten times. At the same time, the Orion will be distinguished by increased “passenger capacity” and will be able to take on board the crew up to 7.
But this is not the main feature of Orion. According to Charles Prekott, vice president of Orbital ATK, a company that develops five-segment solid fuel boosters for SLS, the ship will become part of the interplanetary Martian complex. Its systems, including the life support system (LCL) and radiation protection, will be integrated into this complex in order to increase its reliability.
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The estimated resource of Orion is at least 1000 days. It is designed to enter the Earth’s atmosphere at elevated speeds, such as when returning from L-2 or from Mars. In addition, the ship will become an additional shelter for the crew in case something goes wrong. Precott gave an example with the Apollo-13, whose crew after the explosion of the oxygen tank in the command module during the flight to the Moon was saved largely thanks to the coolant and the propulsion system of the lunar landing module. This module, although it was not designed to work during the flight along the Earth-Moon-Earth route, in a critical situation successfully performed functions unusual for it.
The first test flight of the Orion took place automatically in December 2014, when it was launched using the Delta IV Heavy rocket. The next one is scheduled for September 2018 of the year, the Orion (for now without a crew) will fly in a circumlunar orbit with the help of the SLS carrier, for which this, by the way, will be the first launch. And the first manned flight of the ship - immediately to the Moon - is scheduled for 2021 – 2023 years.
Fears and reality
Flying in low earth orbit, the crews are protected from cosmic radiation by the magnetic field of the Earth. Astronauts heading toward the moon, and especially toward Mars, lose this protection. However, according to Scientific American, citing data from the Curiosity rover, the danger of deep space radiation is not so great as to become an obstacle to the implementation of the Martian expedition. So, astronauts who spend 180 days to get to Mars, just as many to return from it, and also spend 500 days on the surface of the Red Planet, will receive a total radiation dose in the 1,01 area of the sievert. According to the ESA regulations, an astronaut should not receive more than one sievert during all his flights. This dose, according to doctors, increases the risk of cancer by 5%. NASA has stricter standards: the risk of astronaut cancer for the entire period of his professional activity should not exceed 3%. However, according to one of the members of the Curiosity scientific team, Don Hassler, 5% is “a perfectly valid figure.”
Speaking at the People to Mars conference (H2), held in Washington this May, Scott Hubbard, who was formerly responsible for NASA's Mars projects, and now a professor at Stanford University, quoted NASA head physician Richard Williams, who said that currently there are no such health hazards for the crew that would prevent a manned expedition to Mars. ” Williams acknowledges that there is still some risk to the health of astronauts, but NASA is ready to accept it, especially given the fact that the agency is constantly developing new ways to reduce it. For example, at present, NASA is experimenting with a material made from hydrogenated nitride hydrogen nanotubes (BNNT), which exhibits very promising anti-radiation properties.
However, in the opinion of Andy Weier, the author of the book The Martian, on the basis of which the eponymous film was made, his hero would certainly fall ill with cancer during his stay on the surface of the Red Planet. Who is closer to the truth - scientists or a science fiction writer, time will tell.
When, for how much and with whom
Currently, NASA adheres to the following schedule of manned exploration and exploration of Mars. From 2021 to 2025, the year is planned for at least five manned missions to the near-moon space, including “capture” and the study of an asteroid. In 2033, astronauts must reach Phobos, and in 2039, they set foot on the surface of Mars for the first time. In 2043, the second expedition will land on Mars.
To support the manned “assault” of the Red Planet from 2018 to 2046, you will have to launch at least 41 SLS-type media. It is possible that launches of already operated carriers such as “Delta-4” and “Atlas-5” will have to be added to this (if the latter receives American engines instead of Russian ones and is still in operation). They will be involved mainly for launching automatic vehicles to Mars and Mars, which will be entrusted with the function of “scavengers” of scientific information to assist manned expeditions.
Of course, the number of carriers and their types can vary depending on changes made to the configuration of the Martian manned missions. There is an option that requires all 32 carriers of the SLS type (not counting five for the mentioned circumlunar expeditions): ten to provide a manned mission to Phobos, twelve for the first landing of astronauts on Mars, and another ten for the second.
The question of questions is: how much will it all cost and will the United States “pull” such expenses alone? According to a group of experts consisting of NASA employees, as well as representatives of industry and US academics, only a small part of the amount spent on the development and production of the sixth-generation F-35 fighter will have to be paid for sending astronauts to Mars. management of the United States, in the end, the program F-35 can cost a trillion dollars) and will not exceed 100 billions of dollars. This is as much as the USA has so far spent on the ISS program. By 2024, the station’s flight will be completed, and NASA will stop spending almost 4 a billion dollars on its operation annually. Thus, for the ten years separating the end of the station circling around the Earth and the start of the mission to Phobos, the amount of savings will be about 40 billions of dollars and the United States will have to additionally find only 60 billions to implement its Martian designs.
Speaking about the cost of the Martian mission, experts emphasize that it can be reduced even more if you connect international participants to the project. The obvious question is: Is Russia among them, which is currently one of the largest partners of the United States in the space sector and has a serious space potential (especially in the field of manned flights)? But if the United States has similar plans for Russia, as long as they are kept secret.
At the end of May this year, Space News presented the views of the head of NASA, Charles Bolden, on the future of international cooperation in space. He spoke about the importance of interaction outside the atmosphere with Europe, Japan and China. With regards to the PRC, Bolden mentioned that he was going to visit it at the end of the summer, stressing that sooner or later the United States and China would surely start working closely in the field of space. The list of potential space partners even countries such as Israel, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. But Bolden did not say a word about Russia. Maybe there was simply no reason for this, but another explanation is also possible: sharply aggravated relations between Moscow and Washington, as well as the lack of technology and technology for deep space in Russia (for gaining access to them, the United States could set aside general political differences) do not contribute to the interest of America to continue the partnership with our country after the end of the flight of the ISS.
It remains to add that, in addition to the US state Mars program, there is also a private one that SpaceX intends to implement. The head of this company, Ilon Mask, announced plans to land the Dragon ship on the surface of the Red Planet in 2018, and send people there in 2026.
Speaking at the People to Mars conference and talking about why America is aiming for the Red Planet, Charles Prekott said: “Jumping in space happens only when the strategic interests of the country are behind them. We are going to Mars because we want to show the world our ability to do what no one has ever done before, to demonstrate our space leadership and to guarantee our access to the world space market, whose annual income reaches 330 billion dollars. ” As you can see, the explanation is quite simple. And the question arises involuntarily: does Russia really have no such strategic interests, which can be realized with the help of a project worth two Sochi Olympics?