Could we survive on Mars using solar energy?


Imagining humans on Mars is an increasingly common thought. It’s been in our imagination and in the realm of science fiction for decades. And what better for future astronauts living on this planet, solar power generators or nuclear power generators? A research team from the University of California, Berkeley in the United States has examined the energy production levels of different types of technology and found that a human expedition to the surface it would be more efficient if powered by solar energy.

At some point in the next two decades, humans will travel to Mars for stays so long that they represent the building of Martian cities, established with safe habitats, laboratories…there will be a lot to do. You will need to craft medicine, fuel, distill water, create food, and many other supplies. All of this will also require high doses of energy.

Why bet on Mars?

Until now, it was thought that nuclear power plants similar to those that supply other spaceships would be the best option. However, the problem is that these nuclear power plants are very heavy and space travel is always very limited in the load they can carry.

The most modern rockets they can only carry about 100 tons (excluding fuel) and a nuclear power plant that provides about a kilowatt of electricity would weigh about 9.5 tons, which is completely unfeasible from all points of view (in order to transport it to Mars).

“This paper provides a holistic view of available energy technologies and how we might implement them, what are the best use cases for them, and where they fail. If humanity collectively decides that we want to go to Mars, this kind of systemic approach is needed to get there safely and minimize costs in an ethical manner. We want to have a clear comparison between the options, whether we’re deciding which technologies to use, which places to go on Mars, how to get there and who to take.”said Anthony Abel, graduate student in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and co-author of the study.

And solar energy?

The new study, published in the journal Frontiers in astronomy and space scienceargues that a human expedition to Mars can be powered by photovoltaic systems, instead of nuclear.

researchers They weighed the options: compared different ways of producing energy. The calculations focused on the amount of mass of equipment needed to be transported from Earth to the Martian surface for a six-person mission. Specifically, they quantified the requirements of a nuclear propulsion system against different photovoltaic and even photoelectrochemical devices.

A photovoltaic array that uses compressed hydrogen for energy storage was ultimately the lightest. The “transportable mass” of said system is approximately 8.3 tons compared to about 9.5 tons of nuclear energy as we mentioned earlier.

solar power wins

Only photovoltaic energy with electrolysis, which uses electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, was competitive with nuclear power: proved to be more profitable per kilogram than nuclear covering nearly half of the planet’s surface.

“I think it’s good that the result was split pretty close to the middle”said Aaron Berliner, a bioengineering graduate student at UC Berkeley’s Arkin Lab and co-author of the paper. “Closer to the equator, solar energy wins; closer to the poles, nuclear wins”.

Character font: Sarah Romero / Very Interesting

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