Initiating Piloted Mars Expeditions with Medium-Lift Launch Systems

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G.R. Bonin (2005), JBIS, 58, 302-309

Refcode: 2005.58.302
Keywords: Manned Mars missions, medium-lift launch systems

A method of accomplishing manned expeditions to Mars with existing medium-lift launch systems is discussed. In this architecture, 20-tonne propulsion stages are placed individually in low-Earth orbit, where they are mated to Mars-bound payloads and ignited at successive perigees to execute trans-Mars injection. Spacecraft follow conjunction-class trajectories to the red planet and utilize aerobraking for orbital capture and descent. Return vehicles are fuelled with methane/oxygen bipropellant synthesized primarily from Martian resources. Dispatching expeditions from orbit with individual, high-energy stages - rather than directly from the Earth's surface - allows for the division of mission mass into more manageable components, which can be launched by vehicles that exist today. This plan does not require the development of heavy-lift launch technology: an effective yet costly proposition that may otherwise hinder current space exploration initiatives. Without the need for heavy-lift boosters, manned missions to Mars can be undertaken presently, and within the constraints of today's space exploration budgets. It is concluded that the mission design herein represents a less robust, though more economically viable method for initiating manned Mars exploration than proposals which require heavy-lift technology - an alternative method by which a new planet could be opened to humanity.

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