Projects for studying the viability of certain technologies that will enable life on Mars

Martian GPS

by Ariadna Farrés Basiana

The classical way to move around the Martian surface is by taking advantage of the communication provided by the different satellites on Mars, which is how the different Mars rovers have been operated in the past. These connections are not constant and could be jeopardized in case of a satellite failure. At the MDRS, we will explore two different options to navigate around the martian dessert and find our way around the planet. One, by using the night sky, where we will identify reference stars that can help us navigate the same way we do on Earth with Polaris. Second, by building a small GPS network constellation using CubeSats. Given the lower gravity on Mars and its thin atmosphere, little fuel would be necessary to put a set of CubeSats in orbit and start building the constellation. We will focus on determining the requirements to building such a network, for instance, how many CubeSats satellites would be needed and how should they be deployed to ensure full coverage of a large vicinity of our Mars Base Camp.

Martian Batteries

by Neus Sabaté

Since the launch of Explorer in 1958, batteries have been used in Earth orbital and planetary spacecrafts to supply primary electrical power or store electrical energy generated by on-board solar or radioisotope power systems. These energy storage systems are used on spacecraft for various functions, being the most relevant ones: to provide power to the spacecraft subsystems before deployment of the solar panels, fire rocket motors for mid-course correction, meet temporary power needs during eclipse periods, provide power for payload instruments and meet peak power demands derived from data transmission or surface mobility. Primary batteries (single discharge only) are typically used in missions, such as planetary probes, that require electrical power for a period of a few minutes to several hours. Rechargeable batteries (also referred to as secondary batteries) are used mostly in solar-powered spacecraft to provide electrical power during eclipse periods and for load levelling. When considering Mars Surface Missions, the need of advanced rechargeable batteries with high specific energy, energy density, cycle life capability and low-temperature operational capability has been largely identified. Perseverance rover, for example, carries a radioisotope power system that uses the heat of plutonium’s radioactive decay to generate a temperature gradient on a thermoelectric generator. The generated power is stored in two rechargeable lithium batteries. The power generator weights 50 kg (5 kg corresponding to plutonium) and produced approx. 100 watts. The generated energy is partially stored in the batteries in order to provide power to the rover overnight. Although this solution is dimensioned to provided constant power for at least 10 years of operation, it is clear that it cannot be the sole source of power for portable/movable appliances. Yet, to meet peak power demands, large solar panels and large (and therefore heavy) batteries for energy store will have to be transported to Mars in future missions. Ultimately, this turns into a heavy expense of fuel and need of space in every

To ease this concern, I propose to proceed in the same way as my research group is already doing on Earth: to built-up batteries from the rough and abundant materials present near the location where the energy is needed. On Earth, we seek for identification of organic and inorganic electroactive compounds present in organic waste and test their capability to be oxidized or reduced in primary cells. When transferring the idea to Mars planet, my goal is to build up a primary battery with the compounds readily available on Mars. In particular, Mars surface seems to be rich on iron and more specifically in iron oxide and their derivates, which give a characteristic reddish colour to the planet surface. Therefore, during my stay at the Mars Desert Research Station, I will develop an iron-based battery. First, with commercial iron compounds and later, with iron extracted from the rocks present at Station surroundings, which are rich in hematite (iron oxide), one of the materials identified in Mars. Moreover, as water is scarce on Mars surface, I will use urine from the crew as battery electrolyte. Finally, in order to show a practical use of energy generation with the Martian batteries, I will power an LED lighting system to germinate and grow edible greens.

Building Blob’s house

by Cesca Cufí-Prat

Physarum polycephalum (here after physarum), commonly known as “blob”, is an example of plasmodial myxomycetes (commonly named plasmodial slime molds) that consists of a multinucleate single cell amoeba like organism. Its size is commonly of a few centimeters of diameter, and it can move within speeds of few centimeters per hour. This curious creature shows rare learning capabilities for a single celled organism. During its plasmodial state, the physarum explores its surroundings in search of food. It is capable of memorizing its previous path and of finding the optimum one towards the food sources. Slime molds are not only surprising for its learning capabilities but for being extremely resistant: in the lack of food supplies or adverse environmental conditions they produce spores that are highly resistant to harsh environment and can stay dormant for decades waiting for the proper conditions to germinate.

The project Cellular intelligence on martian surface aims at studying the exploration behavior and sporulation triggering of physarum under the influence of UV and infrared radiation, analog to the one in martian surface. If we think about the possibility of performing the same research on Mars, we would need a safe space and protocol in order to avoid any leakage leading to contamination inside or outside a martian station. In parallel to the scientific study, this project aims at designing and constructing a safe container to perform such research for our mission at the MDRS.

Humans are allergic to change. They love to say the most damaging phrase in the language, which is: ‘It’s always been done that way’. I try to fight that. That’s why I have a clock on my wall that runs counterclockwise.

Grace Hopper, rear admiral and pioneering computer scientist