Risky Business

As I said yesterday we could learn a lot from Russia and how they handled the Progress accident in August, however it would be remiss of me not to talk about the Phobos-Grunt mission that is currently stuck in low earth orbit (LEO) and not communicating.

There can be no doubt that space missions are dangerous business, the fact that you strap spacecraft and people to the bottom of a large cylinder and then mix dangerous chemicals together to produce thrust to launch them from 0 to 17,000+ mph in 8 minutes is going to be risky for some time.

For those who don’t know Russia launched the Phobos-Grunt mission last week which was supposed to travel to Mars’ moon Phobos and return with samples taken from the surface. However after launch they were not able to communicate with the spacecraft and it never left LEO. All attempts to contact the craft since have failed and now it could potentially crash back to ever in early December. Most of the toxic fuel on board should burn up on re-entry but that is not ALL therefore there is still potential for it to cause damage.

Later this month NASA will be launching the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) from Cape Canaveral and hopefully everything goes well. However the mission is not cheap at well over two billion US dollars to build there is a lot that could go wrong.

So why do I care?
I think the future for space missions is to build cheaper machines but more of them, if we launched six smaller rovers to Mars that could work together to achieve the ultimate goal then even if we lost one or two we could still complete the mission even if it took longer.

How would you get them all there?
SpaceX (www.spacex.com) have published their rocket prices, my proposal for the first mission would be to fit within the weight structure of the Falcon Heavy launchers and send the craft two at a time during a 6 week launch window. Once they arrive at Mars they would land in close proximity to each other. The landers would then serve as the communication relay back to earth, giving redundancy to the system.  While this does cost more it again reduces the risk to the mission by not putting everything on a single Launcher or Lander.

How would they work together?
One of the rovers would serve as the Master rover issuing commands to all the others to complete the tasks required. Should the Master fail at any point another will take over the responsibility.

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