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Performing geological experiments on Mars. Designing the Flight Plan for a mission to Mars. Protecting astronauts against unpredictable events.
During the third simulation week of the Mars analog field simulation the following experiments were conducted: Aouda.X, Aouda.S, CLIFFBOT, ERAS, MASC, SREC, DELTA, Puli Rover, Hunveyor, LTMS, LIFE, MEDIAN, Deployable Shelter, Yellow.
Performing geological experiments on Mars
Performing geological studies is one of the most important scientific activities during every planetary exploration mission. It is the only way we can understand the mechanisms of past and present evolution of a planet. Thus, geological research was a core part of all Lunar and Martian missions, and it plays an important role in the MARS2013 mission too.
The “Geoscience” experiment, consisting of GESU and MASC simulates basic geological investigations under space flight conditions and makes it possible to setup an archive of samples that will be analyzed on “Earth”. Since none of our analog astronauts were geologists, all of them received training before the mission. Even though we already trained astronauts to perform geological experiments for the Apollo missions, all future Mars explorers will have to have some education in geology. Since the geology of the Moon and Mars are very different, the training will also have to be different compared to the Apollo era. In preparation for visiting the red planet, astronauts will have to be provided with information and skills directly related to the most important scientific questions that we hope to answer on Mars: the ones linked to the search for life and water. The best way for the astronauts to learn these concepts is to study them in areas on Earth very similar to the Martian environment, such as the site in Morocco studied and explored during MARS2013.
The geological experiment consisted of two parts. Firstly, we aimed at obtaining a general understanding of the area surrounding the camp supported by geological descriptions of the outcrops and collected samples to be studied after the end of the mission.
Secondly, we wanted to understand how well non-geologists perform geological fieldwork and collect samples wearing suits that significantly limit their ability to observe their surroundings. Four different analog astronauts went along the same path that crosscut multiple easily visible rock layers and collected samples. After the experiment is completed we will analyze how astronauts chose their sampling spots, how similar their choices were, and how the wearing of the suit influenced their performance.
Another expedition, which was carried out at a southern location, was called MASC — Mars Analog Sample Collection. The experiment aimed to compare the concretions found by the MSL rover in the Gale crater on Mars with terrestrial analog materials from Morocco and in proximity of the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah. This will be used to gain a better understanding of the diagenetic processes on Mars and Earth.
Designing the Flight Plan for a mission to Mars
The Flight Plan team of a mission is the connection between Remote Science Support (RSS), Principal Investigators (PI) and Media on one side and Flight Control and Field Crew on the other side. The Flight Plan team at the Mission Support Center in Innsbruck gets requests and proposals for activities and tries to match them with the available resources. This results in an optimized schedule that ensures maximum scientific output within the given limitations. Flight Plan also gets feedback from the Field Crew regarding problems, inconveniences and suggestions resulting from the planned activities, which are then considered and integrated in further plans.
Additionally, Flight Plan also performs a traverse planning — allocating the safest, shortest and scientifically most interesting paths between two experiment locations in order to further optimize the schedule and to ensure the safety of the analog astronauts. All this information is then passed on to the executive part represented by the Flight Director as the Daily Activity Package, which after being approved will be sent to the field for execution.
Sebastian Hettrich on the many variables that go into a flight plan:
“Each experiment has its own requirements and specifics, such as run times, special locations, bandwidth, how many astronauts it needs to be conducted with, and many more. Then we have our resources, which is manpower, skills and abilities of the field crew personnel, time, the suits, the vehicles available, the bandwidth infrastructure and a few others. Finally we experience certain limitations for the planning, such as the battery run time or the Wi-Fi coverage area, which can be easier dealt with by relocating the antennas once an area has been explored. As Flight Planners we have to keep track also on what experiments were already successfully conducted and where we have to re-plan.“
Flight Plan team on the challenges of their work:
“One of the biggest challenges is to keep track of all the variables and to create an Activity Plan that is as stable as possible, but at the same time as flexible as necessary if urgent re-planning requests come in. Most of the time we have to make compromises between stability and flexibility to make it work. Another challenge is that sometimes we cannot know in advance all the variables needed, which is where we base the planning on educated guesses until we get feedback from the field crew.”
The complexity of their work is beautifully illustrated by the image to the right, showing their Field Activity Plan and excerpts from the Daily Activity Packages, which are simplified schedules used for visualizing planned activities. The color-coding was introduced to distinguish more easily between different kinds of activities. For example, yellow represents preparation and set-up activities, blue indicates travel and traverse times, light green means scientific experiments, dark green is the suit support, pale orange is for safety activities, orange means verifying or checking equipment, violet is for the permanent monitoring, red indicates activities to be conducted by everyone and purple is for media activities.
Sebastian Hettrich on the MARS2013 mission:
“It has been a busy and challenging time, but with the help of an excellent team, we managed to make the planning more efficient and user-friendly. We also learned a lot of lessons, some of which we have already applied and some which will definitely be considered for planning following missions.
The smoothness in the planning and execution of the MARS2013 Mission that we experience right now is the result of the good collaboration, excellent work, enthusiasm and passion for space exploration that all members of the Austrian Space Forum share! It’s a great pleasure to be part of this mission!”
Protecting astronauts against unpredictable events
The Mars surface infrastructure as anticipated for future human missions includes habitation, rover and infrastructure facilities, but equally important is the safety of astronauts in case of an emergency situation or unpredictable event. Away from their base camp, how can astronauts protect themselves? The Deployable and Portable Multipurpose Shelter Prototype is trying to offer a solution in that respect.
Weighing 18 kg, which is the equivalent of 6kg on Mars, the current prototype being tested during the MARS2013 mission was developed between October and December 2012 by Dr.-Ing. Sandra Häuplik-Meusburger, DI San-Hwan Lu and DI Polina Petrova from the Vienna University of Technology, together with many dedicated Masters Students.
During the MARS2013 mission, three students, Zuzana Kerekretyova, Nikolaus Gutscher and Stefan Kristoffer together with Polina Petrova tested the operability (deployment and retraction), the durability (multiple deployments), function (human/equipment shelter) and adaptability (functional usability). Issues that were especially explored included its spatial usability, ergonomic suitability to actions and individual perception of comfort in relation to the activities, leading to an evaluation of the design goals.
The material requirements for the prototype differ from those for a ready-to-use deployable shelter on Mars. The outer garment of this mock-up is for example permeable to air, because of its use in the hot desert.
“This would not be the case for the Martian version. ‘Inflatable structures’ used in space are composed of several layers of high-tech materials, such as Kevlar and Vectran to withstand the rigorous requirements of such an extreme environment.” Says Sandra Häuplik-Meusburger, the PI of the experiment.
Sandra Häuplik-Meusburger on the shelter design:
“The actual shelter that would be used on a mission should not weight more than 20 kg, which is equivalent to 6.6 kg on Mars. The shelter has to be compactly packed, lightweight and carried by one astronaut, similar to a “rucksack” or “suitcase” typology. It has to be easy to deploy and able to accommodate up to two astronauts (with space suits), for e.g. one injured astronaut and one astronaut helping the other. The shelter has to temporarily provide a breathable atmosphere for a minimum duration of up to 48h until rescue arrives (rover, other astronaut) or immediate emergency ceases (successful first aid, change of conditions). It also contains additional air supply, an emergency power supply for the space suit, an emergency food supply, and an emergency toolkit.”
Following the Apollo missions, NASA developed inflatable temporary shelters for the Lunar Module and several habitation design studies foresee deployable structures for building a base (Lunar or Martian) because they offer a number of advantages for space structures, such as volume and weight efficiency, but also flexibility. Although deployable structures have been developed and used on Earth and space, their actual use for habitation purposes beyond Earth is still minimal.
“In contrast to other studies, we chose a minimalist approach, similar to a space-suit extension. Our primary objective was to develop a portable and deployable shelter that can adapt according to the needs of the emergency situation. This is a new and innovative approach.” says Sandra Häuplik-Meusburger
Based on an analysis of human activities during an emergency, the team has developed several emergency scenarios that demand different usages of the shelter. Not all scenarios need additional air supply for example. If necessary, astronauts can use an oxygen mask with a rebreather system. For the internal pressure in the shelter, the Mars atmosphere is used. To adapt the structure to different human activities, compressed Martian atmosphere can be pumped into inflatable cushions of the structure or to stabilizing cushions.
While the shelter prototype was especially developed for emergency situations on Mars, due to its structural adaptability it can be adjusted to various (emergency) situations. One of the next goals could be to adapt this shelter to Antarctic test conditions for further design evaluation. In the process new ways of protecting humans right here on Earth could also be discovered and developed. While reaching to explore outer space, research has always advanced the technologies we use on our home planet.
MARS2013 is an integrated Mars analog field simulation in the Northern Sahara near Erfoud, Morocco. MARS2013 is organized by the Austrian Space Forum in partnership with the Ibn Battuta Center in Marrakesh.
From the 1st to 10th of February, the field crew including three analog-astronauts prepared for the simulation, which officially started on Monday 11th of February 2013. Until the 28th of February the 10-person crew will conduct 16 experiments from various fields (life sciences, engineering and infrastructure, geosciences, rover & spacesuits). The Mars Simulation is backed by a Mission Support Center in Innsbruck, Austria. All communication during the “in SIM” phase (in SIM phase is declared just before the start of an EVA (extra-vehicular activity) and finishes with the end of an EVA) between Morocco and Austria is delayed by 10 minutes, to gain operational experience about communicating with a time-delay. To achieve a proper time delay, all transferred data e.g. audio, text chat, webcam viewings, gets a time stamp and is instructed to wait for 10 minutes before proceeding automatically.
Learn more about MARS2013 and all experiments and partners on https://mars2013.oewf.org
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