Landing on the moon isn’t a fictional account and Mars is being targeted by many space stations, including NASA and SpaceX. However, it still seems far from a realistic date for humans to reach and inhabit Mars, but, inspiringly, SpaceX has made gigantic strides in this context. In order to find landing sites on Mars, SpaceX plans to work in tandem with NASA. In between, SpaceX has leveraged images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a satellite that currently orbits Mars and is launched on an imaging mission.
The task of the satellite is to collect images for the determination of a suitable landing site. This would serve the ultimate shared vision of the two organizations, NASA & SpaceX.
Robert Zimmerman, a famous space historian, came across images with the tags “Candidate Landing Site for SpaceX Starship,” and the NASA Orditot data was provided by the NASA orbiter.
The photos of the Martian surface were captured using a high-resolution camera system called HiRISE. The University of Arizona is responsible for operating HiRISE, and thus the captured images were uploaded on the website of the university as well.
SpaceX is in search of a landing site since 2017, and in this tenure, the company has sliced its search to Arcadia Planitia, a massive plains region. Five out of six potential landing sites are inside this zone, as shown in the following image.
As per the latest data, Arcadia Planitia is one of the regions where shallow ice exists in abundance at comparatively low latitudes. There is strong evidence that buried ice glaciers exist at this location. With this in view, SpaceX focused on two critical elements for its Mars Base Alpha; water and solar energy.
Not only life existence, but these two elements will serve the refueling of Starships as well. As the specified location is in low altitude, the air pressure will be slightly high as compared to other areas on Mars. It will also be beneficial for radiation protection and shall create more atmospheric drag, a favorable factor for landing.
As per the previous research, the mentioned area carries a lack of geographical hurdles like huge rocks, hills, or mountains. This would further ease the landing of starships. Scientists have observed that the plains’ latitude of the Arcadia Planitia is relatively warmer, with a milder climate as compared to other regions of Mars.
Elon Musk- CEO of SpaceX mentions that the Starship will execute the first orbital mission by 2020 — and will initiate the voyage for Mars as early as 2022.
Before the launch of a mammoth Starship spacecraft, the company decided to execute a hop test which was successfully performed in early April and more are expected by the end of the year. A scaled-down version of the enormous Starship spacecraft made its first untethered flight only in July. And according to Musk, a test vehicle twice as big is already in the plans.
Elon visions to take humanity out of the Earth and to explore the moon, move for the settlements on Mars, and to even further reaches in the Solar System.
Citing future estimates, Elon mentioned his strong feelings about a habitable human city on Mars by 2050. It is not him alone, but there are countries, including the United Arab Emirates, aiming for a communal development on Mars in the near future. UAE alone looks forward to having a city of 600,000 population by 2117.
Lewis Dartnell, an Astrobiologist, mentioned in a statement that “while the first human mission to land on Mars will likely take place in the next two decades, it will probably be more like 50-100 years before substantial numbers of people have moved to Mars to live in self-sustaining towns.” Yet, it is too early to figure out a promised human colony at Mars. The SpaceX’s CEO predicts a timespan of “7 to 10 years” before the establishment of first bases on Mars.
Once done with these bases, the work left behind by the first humans shall be expanded. Paul Wooster, Mars development engineer working for SpaceX, explains that “the idea would be to expand out, start off not just with an outpost, but grow into a larger base, not just like there are in Antarctica, but really a village, a town, growing into a city and then multiple cities on Mars.”
The larger cities would offer greenhouses, habitats, and life support. Also, these cities would serve new experiments to answer some of the prime questions related to life on Mars.
Musk is quite desperate to reach Mars himself in his lifetime and pay a visit to the developing colonies. However, he phrased a fear associated with the initial efforts that “probably the people will die”, but optimistically he added, “Ultimately, it will be very safe to go to Mars, and it will be very comfortable. Mars, once inhabited, would serve the missions set to reach further sites in the solar system.”
Earlier this year in February, Elon Musk hinted that he intends to approach moon very soon. As a part of its near-future plans, SpaceX will send Japanese billionaire Yukazu Maezawa on the Starship. Almost six to eight artists will accompany Maezawa on the Starship. It will be a trip around the moon.
It wouldn’t be a Mars-focused mission particularly, but its success would pave ways for a future human-crewed mission. As Musk intimated at the beginning of the year, this could be the first primary mission for the Starship.
In parallel to SpaceX, NASA does operate its own NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, almost in the same period. NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission plays a significant part in the exploration program.
The Mars 2020 mission marks high-priority science-oriented goals for Mars exploration. It includes critical questions about the potential for life on Mars. The mission involves seeking signs of habitable context on Mars that exist in the ancient past, and also includes the searching for signs of past microbial life.
The two organizations; NASA and SpaceX, meet the shared goal, i.e. to reach Mars. Therefore, they decided to benefit each other in identifying possible, and more suitable landing sites on the surface of Mars, which is the first step in this journey. Continuation of these efforts will yield regular space journeys in the future.
Author: Engr. Muhammad Masood