12th December 2013
Suppliers chosen for Mars One's first unmanned mission
Mars One has secured lead suppliers for its first mission to Mars. Slated for a 2018 launch, this will include a robotic lander and orbiting communications satellite.
As we've blogged previously, Mars One is a not-for-profit company based in the Netherlands, which aims to construct the first permanent human settlement on Mars. Led by Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp, the plan is for a supply mission to be launched in January 2018, arriving in the same year. This will carry 2,500 kg (5,500 lb) of spare parts, solar panels and other items down to the surface. It would be followed by a rover and trailer in 2020, capable of towing equipment from landing sites to the settlement location. Six cargo units – consisting of two living units, two life support systems and two supply units – would be sent in 2022, using a rover signal as a beacon.
The outpost would be operational by 2023 and the first human crew would be delivered in 2024. These four astronauts would be joined by additional groups after that, reaching a total of 20 people by 2033. Every step of the crew’s journey will be documented for a reality TV program that will broadcast 24/7/365.
To many of our readers, this probably sounds too good to be true. And indeed, we have omitted the Mars One program from our timeline, until it becomes clearer that the project is financially and technically viable. However, the company has been making progress. Earlier this year, they secured their first investment, which was followed by a tremendous show of public support through their astronaut selection program, and now a crowdfunding campaign is underway.
This week, Mars One contracted both Lockheed Martin and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) to develop mission concept studies. This will result in Lockheed Martin building the lander, while SSTL handles the communications satellite. This 2018 mission will be a demonstration that provides "proof of concept" for some of the technologies important for a permanent human settlement on Mars.
Bas Lansdorp, Mars One Co-founder and CEO stated: “We’re very excited to have contracted Lockheed Martin and SSTL for our first mission to Mars. Both are significant players in their field of expertise and have outstanding track records. These will be the first private spacecraft to Mars and their successful arrival and operation will be a historic accomplishment.”
The surface lander will be based on the 2007 NASA Phoenix mission spacecraft. Lockheed Martin has a distinct legacy of participating in nearly every NASA mission to Mars. For the successful Phoenix mission, the company designed, built, tested and operated the lander for NASA.
“Lockheed Martin is very excited to have been contracted by Mars One. This is an ambitious project and we’re already working on the mission concept study – starting with the proven design of Phoenix,” said Ed Sedivy, Civil Space chief engineer at Lockheed Martin. “Having managed the Phoenix spacecraft development, I can tell you, landing on Mars is challenging and a thrill and this is going to be a very exciting mission.”
The lander will have the ability to scoop up Martian soil with a robotic arm similar to the Phoenix mission. A water experiment will extract water from the Martian soil. A power experiment will demonstrate the deployment and operation of thin-film solar panels on the surface, and a camera on the lander will be used to make continuous video recordings.
The demonstration satellite will provide a high bandwidth communications system in a Mars synchronous orbit and will be used to relay data and a live video feed from the lander on the surface of Mars back to Earth. Sir Martin Sweeting, Executive Chairman of SSTL: “We believe the commercialisation of space exploration is vital, in order to bring down costs and schedules and fuel progress. This study gives an unprecedented opportunity to take our tried and tested approach and apply it to Mars One’s imaginative and exhilarating challenge of sending humans to Mars through private investment.”
Arno Wielders, Co-founder and CTO of Mars One, said: "With our 2018 missions, Mars One brings the settlement of Mars one step closer to reality. The demonstration of water production on Mars is crucial for manned missions. The live video feed from the surface camera will bring Mars closer to people on Earth. And with the STEM education challenges and university competitions planned on our lander, we will enthuse a whole new generation for Mars exploration, even before our first crew lands."
Mars One decided to launch the lander and communications satellite in 2018, two years later than their original schedule. This new schedule provides time for development of the two spacecraft and for student participation in STEM education and university challenges.
Mars One’s mission will not be financed by any government. Instead, means of funding the project include sponsorships and exclusive partnerships. Mars One is in discussion with several partners about participating in specific components of the mission. As mentioned, a crowdfunding campaign has also been launched that enables people to donate online. Among other things, contributors will be granted voting rights for mission decisions in the future.
“Landing the first humans on Mars should be everyone’s mission and not just the mission of one country or organisation” said Lansdorp. “Our 2018 mission will change the way people view space exploration as they will have the opportunity to participate. They will not only be spectators, but also participants. We think it is important to involve people from all over the world in what we’re doing, and crowdfunding and crowdsourcing activities are important means to do that.”