Mars may well become the next space target of the century. Faced with the technical challenge it represents, we will have to reinvent our way of going in space, at least if we intend to return from it.
While missions to the Moon make the headlines in space news, a trip to Mars, which was science fiction 20 years ago, is now being considered. Although impossible to achieve for the moment, the technical challenges to be taken up being far too numerous, our red neighbor remains an objective well anchored in the minds of engineers and other bosses of large space companies. But at the moment, they all face the same problem, that of resources.
Elon Musk, as ambitious as he is, knows well that an arrival on Mars cannot be done without technical revolutions in the design of our rockets. Indeed, the Starship, which seems to be the spaceship designed for this kind of mission, cannot currently carry enough fuel, both for the outward journey and back.
Carbon, Sun, water and microbes: the recipe for rocket fuels
But according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Georgia in the United States, the most promising would be to produce its own fuel, directly on Mars, thus significantly reducing the amount of propellants needed for the trip. They have indeed presented a new concept which should allow the manufacture of fuel for a rocket, directly from Martian soil. The red planet would even be full of resources to make it easy to make the return trip with this extraterrestrial fuel.
To put it simply, scientists think they are using carbon dioxide, sunlight and frozen water, three resources that our neighbor does not lack. But these three main components shouldn’t be the only ingredients needed, and astronauts should bring a large amount of germs to Mars in their luggage. The latter should be able, thanks to sunlight and carbon dioxide, to produce sugars, essential for the design of a fuel. This method would have the advantage of creating a fuel, 2,3-butanediol, which already exists on Earth and which some rockets use.
NASA is also working on the subject
Another project, led by NASA, proposes to bring back to Mars a chemical catalyst in order to transform the carbon dioxide present on the red planet into liquid oxygen, the main fuel of today’s rockets. But this solution does not seem perfect, it which requires bringing methane back to Mars as well as many other accessories that are quite heavy and complex to transport.
The solution offered by scientists at the University of Georgia therefore has the merit of using the vast majority of resources present on Mars and does not require much space in a hypothetical cargo rocket that would go to Mars upstream of a manned mission. .