Future Mars colonists will have to choose: solar or nuclear power - Newsmonkey

Future Mars colonists will have to choose: solar or nuclear power – Newsmonkey

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Research conducted by the University of California shows that the inhabitants of the red planet will have to choose between two types of energy.

NASA and the European Space Agency ESA plan to send astronauts to Mars within 20 years. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk also talks about plans to colonize the Red Planet.

But one of the main practical problems related to the establishment of a human community on Mars remains the energy supply of these colonies. Students at the University of California, Berkeley, spent four years studying how Mars colonies might be fed. They published their findings last week.

Enough fuel for a round trip.

Both nuclear and solar power would be adequate to fuel a prolonged stay on Mars, the researchers say. However, the future inhabitants of the red planet will have to choose well in advance which of these two types of energy they will use. After all, the equipment used to generate power will be extremely heavy and will seriously influence space travel.

Solar power would be suitable for settlements near the planet’s equator. Nuclear power, on the other hand, would be more suitable for colonies near the poles of Mars. This choice is, of course, related to the amount of light that solar panels will be able to capture during a solar cycle on Mars.

For the study, the researchers simulated the power options available to a base housing six people on Mars. The first astronauts will have to carry almost all the equipment they will need when they leave Earth, including photovoltaic cells, batteries and nuclear reactors that will have to be deployed immediately to allow the survival of the crew. Transporting material from Earth to Mars will be extremely difficult and expensive, so you really have to minimize the amount you carry, the researchers say.

They then calculated how much energy the solar or nuclear options would produce respectively, as well as the approximate mass astronauts would have to carry around to produce it. About 50% of the surface of Mars would be more suitable for solar energy. Only 8.3 tons of material would be needed to install a six-person solar-powered habitable base in these areas. The lightweight solar panels could generate an average of 40 kilowatts, which is enough to heat, light, power a Mars rover, produce oxygen, create fertilizer for crops, and even produce methane to have enough fuel for a return trip.

nuclear power at the poles

Nuclear power would be more suitable for living at the poles of Mars, since the planet is tilted about 25 degrees on its axis. This is slightly larger than Earth, which means that its orbit is less circular, so less sunlight would reach the photovoltaic cells of the panels during certain times of the year.

The hardware needed to produce enough nuclear power would weigh about 9.5 tons to generate the same amount of power as solar panels. An achievable task for rockets of the near future, like NASA’s Space Launch System and SpaceX’s Starship and Super Heavy. All of these systems can carry payloads of tens of tons through space.

The most interesting solar panels in the long term

While the energy question must be resolved before embarking on the first trip to Mars due to the weight of the cargo, the energy question does not necessarily have to end with a final choice. The Berkeley researchers believe that both solutions are possible, if the different trips are well planned.

Most importantly, Martian colonists will surely have abundant energy one day. It would be extremely dangerous to rely on just one technology. If a system error occurs, it can cause a disaster.

However, the researchers speculate that solar panels will become increasingly attractive as a growing population moves into the colony. Solar panels are a simpler technology and easier to implement on a large scale. Finding plutonium on Mars for a nuclear reactor won’t be easy either, according to the study. How a society on Mars will be organized in the long term is an even more important question.

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