Thursday, February 28, 2013
Denis Tito - The Man Who Sold Us Mars
In 2018, the planets will literally align, offering a unique orbit opportunity to travel to Mars and back to Earth in only 501 days. Inspiration Mars is committed to sending a two-person American crew – a man and a woman – on an historic journey to fly within 100 miles around the Red Planet and return to Earth safely.
The mission’s target launch date is Jan. 5, 2018. This exceptionally quick, free-return orbit opportunity occurs twice every 15 years. ..... It will be financed primarily through philanthropic donations, with some potential support from government sources.
This mission will be a flyby passing within 100 miles of the surface of Mars. Additional maneuvers will be minor course corrections only, using the gravitational influence of Mars to “slingshot” the vehicle onto a return course to Earth. An inflatable habitat module will be deployed after launch and detached prior to re-entry.
Investments in human space exploration technologies and operations by NASA and the space industry are converging in time to make such a mission achievable. The mission is being designed based on proven Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) systems and technologies that are available on the market today....
The beauty of this mission is its simplicity. The flyby architecture lowers risk, with no critical propulsive maneuvers, no entry into the Mars atmosphere, and no rendezvous and docking. It also represents the shortest duration roundtrip mission to Mars
That site doesn't give a cost but unofficially it is being estimated at $1 bn (£600 million) which is remarkable, when you consider Obama cancelled NASA's Mars mission when a review had concluded that it would cost on the order of $150 billion. NASA has already spent many billions on feasibilty studies without going anywhere.
This does seem to confirm the view that, though government has far more money than any individual, if we want the money actually used usefully it is going to be through private enterprises.
It also confirms that there is money available for use and investment in space. The other projects I have previously discussed in this vein are investments. Actually of the 2 choices I favour investment since that alone makes space development sustainable in the long term. But if Tito does this it will certainly encourage normal investment, probably some of it by him. Tito is the billionaire who spent $20 million to be a "tourist" on a Russian space flight.
Personally I think the way to go is with some form of nuclear rocket. The simplest is the original Orion - with lift off and voyage powered by atomic bombs.
This from the Register;
if concerns over nuclear power could be assuaged, small dustbin-sized fission reactors of the type used in submarines could be employed. Chang-Díaz reckons that such a ship could do the Earth-Mars run in just 39 days.
In 2002, he wrote (pdf):
While a human Mars mission based on solar power is technically feasible, it is operationally fragile. Beyond Mars, the use of solar power for transporting and supporting human life would not be possible ... As their robotic precursors have done, future human interplanetary spacecraft will rely on nuclear power to explore the far reaches of the solar system and beyond.
If the human race is ever going beyond Mars, or ever going to see anything more of the universe than our own planetary backyard - if any of the more adventurous science fiction is ever going to become true - we're going to need nuclear power, it would seem. And lots of it.
I have also written of small nuclear reactors which could do the job too. The advantage of such craft is that while they may not be able to achieve the sort of high thrust needed for take off they can provide a lower thrust for very long periods and low acceleration maintained continuously is all that is needed for settlement of the entire solar system. This article explains
at an acceleration of 1 G. Distance travelled drops with the square root of the acceleration and goes up with the square of the time spent accelerating ) so a rocket. Pluto is 29 AU so at a constant acceleration of 0.1 G it is ( root of 29/12.2 x root of 10) 4.9 weeks, less than an ocean voyage to Australia.
Of course this depends on false government promoted concerns over nuclear power being "assuaged". So that is what the governmental role in space development now comes down to - trying to invent reasons not to do it.
But this means that, by definition, once individuals have got to space and government have proven unable to do so, the individuals are literally beyond the reach of parasitic government. When that happens nothing is impossible. And that may be the most important part of Tito going to Mars in 2018 when NASA's ever receding date was no earlier than the 2030s.
s = a x t squared
s/a = t squared
time = root s/a = root 29/12.2 divided by 0.1 = 4.9 weeks
(the 0.5 being previously removed in the original author's calculation)