Boom in the space industry

A space mission to Mars takes roughly three years to complete. With a crew of six astronauts, approximately 30 tons of supplies are required to provide for both the outward and return journey.

Among the impossible things man would like to do is travelling to Mars and staying there forever. Ten years ago, people would have laughed at the idea, however several years from now, the first flight to Mars with humans is expected to take off with over 200,000 volunteers ready to leave Earth behind forever. On the other hand, before expanding human presence in deep space, the giant leap should start right on Earth by developing capabilities necessary for astronauts’ safe and pleasant habitation.

Space exploration is not exactly cheap! It takes the equivalent of millions of dollars to send even a single robotic mission to space, and billions of dollars to send astronauts into orbit. Since its inception, the United States has spent almost US$650 billion on NASA; ESA’s annual budget is approximately US$7 billion and contribution from private companies and investors significantly increase those amounts.

Although billions are being already spent on preparing for manned missions to deep space, there is no way in sight for providing drinking water for the voyage. “To actually enable a space trip to Mars, or beyond, continuous recycling of resources in order to produce food, water and oxygen on site is a necessity”, – Rob Suters, co-founder of ESA programme MELiSSA says. Therefore, Life Support Systems (LSS) are an integral part of a deep space habitation capability that develops environment to sustain humans who are living away from Earth’s protective atmosphere and resources.

SpaceX’s Starship is expected to be the world’s most powerful launch vehicle ever developed, with the ability to carry in excess of 100 metric tonnes. The company’s aspirational goal has been to land the first humans on Mars by 2024, but in October 2020 Elon Musk named 2024 as goal for an uncrewed mission, with a crewed mission to follow later.

The reason of a delay was unreadiness of Starship’s vehicle for provision of a safe environment for astronauts. Luckily, science is developing. Airbus with its Advanced Closed Loop System (ACLS) is being tested to purify air and produce oxygen for the International Space Station (ISS); The Swedish company, HYDROMARS AB, also develops a circular water system. Together this will constitute a compact, efficient, and affordable air and water recycling systems. The next step in development is to install these technologies onboard the ISS in 2023.

The benefits of exploration of deep space is undeniable: With humans on Mars, we will be able to advance science and technology in ways only dreamed of with current robotic explorers. Notably, one of the eight predictions for the world in 2030 by experts from World Economic Forum is colonization of the Red Planet. With proper attention and achievements in the development of LSS, the dream of deep space exploration promises soon to become reality.

Author: Shorena Tsindeliani