Here’s how Mars explorers can best produce electricity on the Red Planet

An artistic conception of a manned mission to Mars.

An artistic conception of a manned mission to Mars.
picture: NASA

Scientists are on the fence about whether solar or nuclear power should be the preferred source of energy for the small teams visiting the surface of Mars. New research suggests that both options are good, with geographic location being the deciding factor.

The researchers Comparison of two different forces-Generating options for a manned flight to Mars: solar cells and nuclear power from small fission reactors. A major consideration was the amount of weight, or “carrying mass” required to build each solution, which missions to Mars would strive to pack in the most efficient way possible. The Resultspublished today in Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Science, suggests Both options are viable, but with a somewhat important caveat regarding geography.

“The main finding was that whoever ‘wins’ depends on location on Mars,” Anthony Abel, a researcher from the University of California, Berkeley’s Department of Chemical Engineering and one of the study’s authors, explained in an email. “The overall result was that closer to the equator, solar power was better than nuclear, while nuclear power was closer to the poles near the poles.”

This is good information, as it can have a huge impact on the type of power-gActivate the devices each future mission will want to bring to Mars. NASA should take note, as the space agency plans to send the first manned mission to the planet In the late thirties or early forties. However, these results are specific to a crew of six in a A 480-day mission to the surface of Mars (the first missions are unlikely to last more than 30 days), but the researchers say their results could speak to larger and longer missions, including permanent colonies. Aaron Berliner of the University of California at Berkeley’s Department of Nuclear Engineering is a co-author on the study.

Future explorers will need electricity to support their terrestrial missions. This energy will be needed to generate warmth, oxygen and clean drinking water as well To power more advanced activities as well, such as LED lights To shine on crops and 3D printers to produce useful parts. Abel and Berliner, as members of the Center for the Use of Biological Engineering in Space (CUBES), have a vested interest in the subject, because their imagined concepts would draw on the continuing power of action, such as using microbes to produce plastic. and pharmaceuticals. Abel and Berliner wanted to know how best to provide power for future space-enabling systems, which led to the new study.

“We knew that rovers in the past were powered by either solar cells or nuclear power generators, and that both solar and nuclear power have been proposed for manned missions to Mars,” Abel told me. “Nuclear generators will work more or less the same way no matter where you are, but solar cells will work very differently because sunlight is the source of energy.”

The consistency of nuclear power and the weakness of solar power have led some experts to suggest that nuclear power may be the smarter and more reliable option. In fact, there are many factors to consider when it comes to solar power generation on the Red Planet. Mars, in addition to being a footballFarther from the sun than from the ground, it is cooler, dustier, and drier. Abel and Berliner had to take these factors into account, calculate differences in the Sun’s density, map surface temperatures, analyze the way gases and particles absorb and scatter light on Mars, all of this Effects Solar Cell Capacity for energy production.

“So, we needed to model the Martian atmosphere to see how much light would fall on our solar cells, and then model the solar cells to see how much energy they would generate,” Abel said. “The sun also sets every day, so when using solar energy you have to know how to store energy to ‘keep the lights on’ at night.”

Equipped with this data, the team then calculated the carried mass of the different energy solutions — “the amount of stuff we would need to carry with us from Earth to Mars,” Abel said, adding that “less is better.” This led the team to conclude that solar power works best near the equator, while nuclear power makes more sense near the poles.

In fact, while the mini-nuclear fission device works in the same way regardless of the chosen location on Mars, the same cannot be said of solar energy. The array of photovoltaic cells that use pressurized hydrogen to store energy was calculated to have a portable mass of 8.3 tons at the Martian equator, compared to 9.5 tons for the equivalent nuclear option. But as solar efficiency declines with distance to the equator, our intrepid explorers will need to pack 22 tons of material to build an equally efficient solar array at the poles of Mars. And the future isxplorers will definitely You want to visit the poleswhere these areas are likely to be Precious water ice.

The key finding of the research, Abel said, is that “both solar and nuclear can work, but it depends on where you land, how many people go, and how the energy is stored.” Interestingly, the surface of Mars is split roughly in the middle in terms of whether solar or nuclear would be the ideal energy option. In terms of energy storage, the team found it best to take the excess electricity and use it to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen..

“These gases can easily be stored in tanks until nightfall, When solar panels do not produce energy. Then, we use a fuel cell to release the energy stored in those gases back into electricity, and regenerate the water,” Abel told me. “You’ve probably heard of fuel cell buses, which rely on the same technology to power their engines.”

Abel asked if these findings could be carried over to Mars missions lasting more than 480 days and involving more than six people.

He replied, “Things would be a little different for the larger expeditions or for the colony.” “Because the habitat is going to be bigger, it will need more energy, so your power generation system will also need to get bigger. For solar, your energy storage system will also need to be bigger, which could hurt solar a little bit.”

However, Abel believes these findings could translate well to other types of tasks. Once the landing site has been chosen and the number of crew members chosen, mission planners can “use our calculations to determine whether nuclear or solar power would be best at that location relative to the size of the mission.”

According to Apple, solar power would be best for a mission to Jezero Crater, the landing site for NASA’s Perseverance rover, while nuclear power would be the best option at Utopia Planitia, where the Viking 2 lander landed. Calculating for different mission sizes is very easy now that we can predict how much energy solar cells can generate in a particular location on Mars.”

Looking ahead, the team will work out how much food, medicine and other resources the Martian ground crews will need, and how many and what type of solar panels should support those needs. they Also consider designing task plans that take into account brighter days, or the summer months, during this time. Mars explorers cMaterials must be stored for use during winterwhen the sunlight is less intense.

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