Comparison of Four Space Propulsion Methods for Reducing Transfer Times of Manned Mars Mission

Research paper by A. G. C. Guerra, O. Bertolami, P. J. S. Gil

Published on: 26 Nov '15Published in: Physics - Popular Physics


We assess the possibility of reducing the travel time of a manned mission to Mars by examining four different propulsion methods, and keeping the mass at departure under 2,500 tonnes, for a fixed architecture. We evaluated representative systems of three different state of the art technologies (chemical, nuclear thermal, and electric), and one advance technology, the "Pure Electro-Magnetic Thrust" (PEMT) concept (proposed by Rubbia). A mission architecture mostly based on the Design Reference Architecture 5.0 is assumed in order to estimate the mass budget, that influences the performance of the propulsion system. Pareto curves of the duration of the mission and time of flight versus mass of mission are drawn. We conclude that the ion engine technology, combined with the classical chemical engine, yields the shortest mission times for this architecture with the lowest mass, and that chemical propulsion alone is the best to minimise travel time. The results obtained using the PEMT suggest that it could be a more suitable solution for farther destinations than Mars.

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