PICTURE: The perfect launch vehicle for Mars... Energia!
Mars is the future of manned space exploration and it is also the future of the Energia heavy booster system.
Mars is currently all the rage, with four missions launched to the planet, and two American Rovers currently surveying the surface.
Back in 1997, the NASA Pathfinder web site received over 700 million hits in the month of that probe's landing!
It is clear that the red planet is back in the picture in a big way. Public interest in Mars is bound to increase further in coming years. It raises the obvious questions... When can we go there? ...and how?
The simple fact is... We are ready to go to Mars...Now. Today. All the technology exists. It has been in place for years. NASA would have you believe, however, that one crucial, component is missing... A heavy lift launch vehicle. Such a vehicle would be needed in order to lift any planned Mars mission payload into orbit. The required lifting power is specified as 100 tonnes of cargo. NASA and the European Space Agency are without any such vehicle, the closest they have is the American space shuttle which can lift 20-30 tonnes. There is only one rocket in the world, which is capable of lifting 100+ tonnes into orbit... Energia.
As it currently stands, Russia's Energia heavy lift booster can lift up to 175 tonnes of payload into orbit (8 boosters + Energia-M upper stage). That is 75 more than the Mars mission requirement, and 145 more than the U.S shuttle. The Energia system is safe, strenuously developed over 20 years and running on liquid propellant. It has a 100 percent launch success rate and is designed to be fully reusable, in addition the Energia-T derivative offers flyback booster options!
Currently, however, Energia is not being used. The Russian space program is cash strapped and there is no money for any more launches. Furthermore, till the Mars mission there was no cargo heavy enough to warrant using Energia. Energia was designed as the launch platform for a Russian manned mission to Mars as well as for the the Russian space shuttle. Both of these functions, however, are not possible with the country's current financial situation. Therefore, a tested and proven system sits unused because it has nothing to lift... Well nothing until the planned manned Mars missions came along... A role which Energia is perfect for.
Despite, recommendations to use Energia for a NASA Mars mission by Standford University studies as well as countless Russian scientists, most recently Energia corp, NASA appears oblivious to the idea.
NASA is currently proposing the development of their own heavy lift rocket, to be known as Magnum. The cost of developing such a rocket will run into billions of dollars for the American taxpayer. What’s more, Magnum features experimental unproven technologies, one need only think back to the X-33 ‘shuttle replacement’ program and what a fiasco that turned into. Worse still, Magnum will not be as powerful as Energia and take years to develop and test. If we want to get to Mars soon then the whole Mars manned mission program has to wait on Magnum being designed, built and tested.
Furthermore, due to the limited lifting power of the proposed Magnum, a Mars mission will have to be taken up in parts and require a sub orbital assembly, costing yet more money and time. It’s the same case if you want to use Delta rockets or Ariane.
The ultra heavy lifting power of Energia bypasses the need for a sub orbital assembly of the Mars Mission. This means a simplified, safer and quicker journey to Mars. What's more Energia exists today, not in the distant future. It is not a pie in the sky scheme, it is solid reality. Energia Corp even allow for licensed construction of their rockets overseas so new Energia's could be built in the U.S!
Bottom line, the best option for sending a manned mission to Mars in the coming years is to use Energia. It is a proven, cost effective system that is specifically designed for this task.
Mars awaits... Let's get there today, not tomorrow.
PICTURE: Energia’s fly back booster configuration offers the ability for a fully reuse-able heavy lift launch system,
PICTURE: An artist's impression of Energia powering an International Mars Mission.