General Meeting

Travelling to Mars
Speaker: Delphine Van Vynckt
Delphine Van Vynckt
Delphine Van Vynckt
Location
CHÂTEAU SAINTE-ANNE Rue Du Vieux Moulin 103 1160 Bruxelles

The talk will explore the topic on why we are travelling to Mars, and in a more general manner why do we do space exploration. It will explain the interest of the big agencies like NASA and the European Space Agency, but also try to comprehend the interest from private companies such as SpaceX or Blue origin.

Then the presentation will focus on the travel itself to Mars, tackling subjects like trajectory and the challenge of a deep space mission, with direct impact on scientific missions or the future potential of the human quest to Mars.

The equipment required to enable communication with the spacecraft as part of the ExoMars project will be detailed. It will conclude with a state of the art in the actual planned missions to Mars and a short outline of the Artemis program.

Delphine Van Vynckt is a civil engineer who specialized in nanotechnology. She has been working in the space business for 10 years. She was responsible for the ExoMars Carrier Module of the European Space Agency to be launched to Mars. She participated from the design and development stages all the way to the testing activities. She is the co-founder of a non-profit organization to bring together students and young professionals passionate about space called beSPACE. She has performed a Martian simulation in the desert of Utah for two weeks at the Mars Desert Research Station, which is a space-analogue facility that supports Earth-based research in pursuit of the technology, operations, and science required for human space exploration. Delphine also participated in a student space program to launch SOI technology on a weather balloon.

Photo by Delphine Van Vynckt

A Review
Travelling to Mars
A review by Larisa Doctorow
mars

This was the topic of ISG’s General Meeting on 17 October. Our speaker was Delphine Van Vynckt, a civil engineer who graduated from Louvain university specializing in nanotechnology. She has been working in the space business for ten years. She is also a co-founder of a non-profit organization called beSPACE, which brings together students and young professionals who are passionate about space. In 2012 she and other participants of the mission spent two weeks in the Utah desert at the Mars Utah Research Station. They were placed in a Mars like environment to study the technology and operations required for human space exploration.

Delphine’s lecture covered various aspects of cosmic explorations, space travel and possible human space missions towards the end of this century. Certainly, the planet of Mars occupies the central place in this scientific research. It is the closest planet to the Earth and similar in size. On the screen we were shown a lot of data about Mars. The distance between Mars and the Earth is 225 million kilometres (average). It takes 250 days to reach Mars by a spaceship.

Mars has 10.7% of the mass of the Earth and the force of gravity is 37% of the Earth’s. The atmosphere consists of carbon 96% dioxide, 1.89% nitrogen and 1.93% argon, plus some mixture of oxygen and water. The temperatures are much lower than on the Earth and it has a strong background radiation. Out of the many missions sent to Mars only 18 were successful. Of these, the Mars Global Surveyor studied the surface of Mars from 1999 till 2006.

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Why do we want to go to Mars? The main reason is scientific. We want to know whether life existed there. It also gives us the incentive to develop new technologies, to encourage space mining, meaning making business and also encouraging space tourism. From the scientific point of view, we want to understand what happened to Mars and whether it could happen to our planet. For example, there are proofs that water existed there, and we want to know why it disappeared. There are many things to explore which we can use to improve our planet and to avoid Mars’ destiny.

It is difficult to go to Mars because travel there takes many months. Then, we face the issue of how to come back. For all of this, much preparation must be done. Our speaker explained why we do space explorations involving big agencies like NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), and also private companies such as SpaceX or Blue Origin. From NASA’s point of view, the main thing is technology. Private companies want to participate in cosmic research because they hope to make important discoveries and further use those for themselves. Among the biggest players is Elon Musk, who is actively involved in preparing for potential space travel to Mars. He wants to save mankind from extinction. Musk has said: “Either we stay on this planet and become extinct, or we colonize other planets.” He said that he does not promote moving there, but that humans can live on both planets.

Another aspect – beneath the research there is the hope that the future will be better than the past. The speaker showed us the trajectory of the potential spaceship that will travel to Mars. It has to overcome a lot of difficulties, and the trajectory is one of them. Only once in 26 months is Mars closest to the Earth and usually the space missions are planned for that period. We have to learn how to save solar energy for travelling and develop the equipment which will enable communication with the spacecraft. These are: antennas, modulators, a demodulation system and amplifiers TWTA (Traveling Wave Tube Amplifiers), because close to Mars we can’t use our connection with the Earth. Everything is blocked by Mars’ own radio waves. Sending a spaceship to Mars is complex! Sixty percent of the landing attempts failed because of the planet’s thin atmosphere, which does not help to slow down the rocket. The result has been that spaceships have hit the ground at great speed and exploded. The landing takes seven minutes. Americans have called this the seven minutes of terror. You can’t rely upon the signals from the Earth, because sending them and receiving takes 14 minutes. Eight successful landing on Mars have been achieved by the Americans. In 2021 there was one by China. NASA is developing a spaceship to go to Mars. The original plan was to do this by the end of 2022, but it has been pushed back. There is the speculation that in next century one million people could be living on Mars.

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If we talk about human missions, decontamination becomes a very important process. Humans carry microorganisms either to Mars or on the way back to Earth. Another question concerns the protection of the cosmonauts. It important to understand how the body changes in space and to foresee potential problems. There are agencies which use Mars-like conditions here on Earth and do research. A big breakthrough in planning for space missions was Elon Musk’s development of reusable rockets. The owner and director of SpaceX, Elon Musk created these rockets to save money and time for the space travel missions. This has brought the first human mission to Mars one step closer.

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