If our goal is to make regular journeys from Earth to Mars, then we will need new engines. Engineers are looking for new technologies which could help us in this matter.
Due to the orbital paths that Earth and Mars do around the Sun, the distance between them can vary – between 54.6 million km and 401 million km. The mission to Mars is launching when two planets make a close approach. While one of these approaches happen, it takes about nine months to get to Mars by using chemical rockets, which is what we’re using now.
That’s quite the time to spend traveling. However, engineers, together with those at the US space agency – NASA – are working with industrial partners in order to develop faster methods of getting to Mars faster.
Solar electric propulsion — This new technology might help us get faster to Mars
Solar electric propulsion is one variant: it could send cargo to Mars before the human missions take place. This means that there will be supplies and equipment ready for astronauts when they arrive – by using chemical rockets. This comes from Dr. Jeff Sheehy, chief engineer in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.
By using solar electric propulsion, solar arrays will unfurl in order to capture solar energy, which is then converted to electricity. This powers us a Hall thruster – as scientists call it. Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages. You need less fuel, which means that the spacecraft becomes lighter. But that means that it also takes longer to get there.
Dr. Sheehy stated that: “In order to carry the payload we’d need to, it would probably take between two to 2.5 years to get us there.”. They would need to build on Mars for the crews to be able to survive there for months, and for the vehicles, they will need a lot of cargo.