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From Red Centre To Red Planet

The Human Operations Prototype (HOP) will be based on a second hand 4WD van chassis. A foam-fibreglass sandwich shell will provide added realism for simulation crews, who will undertake weeklong sorties in outback locations.
by Jason Hoogland
Brisbane - Nov. 6, 2000

Australia could one day become a player in the international effort to send people to Mars, with the recent announcement of a grant to Mars Society Australia for design and construction of the Human Operations Prototype (HOP) as part of Project Marsupial.

There are surprising number of space projects now underway in Australia, including Fedsat-1, the first Australian satellite in more than 30 years, and Hyshot, a world first effort to better understand scramjet engines which may one day reduce the cost of access to space.

Other projects include the Australian Space Research Institute (ASRI) Ausroc series of liquid fuelled rockets that could provide a local launcher capability, and the JAESat and BLUESat microsatellites offering young Australians a chance to understand and build real space technology.

Australia and Mars
Yet there is another way Australia can play a part in international space efforts without ever leaving the launch pad. The Australian outback features some of the best Mars-like environments in the world.

On its own, Australia may never send people to Mars, but does have the capability to design, develop and test procedures and technologies for use on Mars and the Moon.

Australia is also well positioned to tap into its strengths in remote sensing, astronomy and mining, with emerging capabilities in telecommunications, hypersonics and automotive design to name but a few.

It is likely several human missions will have been accomplished by 2050. In fact, a human Mars mission could be successfully achieved within 10-15 years, since the technical barriers are not nearly as great as the political and economic ones.

Increasingly, more nations will recognize the potential for Mars, another world, to rally and inspire their best and brightest. We may yet see another space race; this time not between political foes, but amongst capitalist allies seeking mid and long term economic benefits. Or, Mars may become an international joint venture. Either way, Australia can play a small yet very significant part.

The recent announcement of the NASA Mars Programme should not dampen this vision, for Mars is a place, not a programme. Australians can play a role in the planning and design of human missions, in the training of the first crews and in the development of specialist technologies with a view to export income. Indeed, we can also take leadership in the ethical, legal and economic questions that will ultimately decide how we view Mars.

Project Marsupial and HOP
Mars Society International recently announced that three teams from the University of Michigan, MIT/University for Toronto and Australia would be granted US$10,000 to design and develop human pressurized rover simulation vehicles to allow research in Mars-like environments on Earth. The Australian team headquarters is based at the University of Queensland in Brisbane.

A Mars Society competition was held this year to design a pressurized Mars "analogue" rover, with around 20 teams submitting entries from all over the world. Many of these designs required cheaper, less ambitious prototypes to allow rapid mobilization of operations research in Mars analogue environments.

The competition thus became a grant process, with seed funding awards based on proposal merit. This funding has been made possible thanks largely to the efforts of Mars Society International President, Dr Robert Zubrin, who visited Australia earlier this year.

There is currently a lack of human-centred research relevant for future Mars missions and these platforms will allow simulation and analysis of crew-crew, crew-machine and crew-environment interactions.

As part of a long-term Technical Programme announced in July, Mars Society Australia established Project Marsupial to help answer basic scientific questions relating to human factors.

Another objective of the project was to see Australia making a contribution to the engineering database for future Mars rovers, and to provide a platform for the development and testing of niche planetary surface technologies.

The successful Australian proposal, the Human Operations Prototype (HOP) will be based on a second hand 4WD van chassis. A foam-fibreglass sandwich shell will provide added realism for simulation crews, who will undertake weeklong sorties in outback locations.

Crews will operate under the constraints of Mars conditions, including the use of analogue suits, pressurization procedures and radio communications.

Approaches to surface exploration will be developed and tested, complementing limited research undertaken by scientists in Mars analogue environments elsewhere.

HOP will show how a small, light rover might be feasible. Every gram of unnecessary weight added to Mars mission architecture merely increases cost and sets the commencement of an actual mission further and further into the future. The "Mars Direct" plan devised by Robert Zubrin and David Baker showed that innovative thinking could overcome daunting price tags.

While the current NASA "Reference Mission" 3.0 (NRM3.0) for humans to Mars is largely based on Mars Direct, use continues to be made of what could prove to be an excessively heavy pressurized surface rover for crew sorties.

Where Mars Direct employs a 1.4 ton rover, NRM3.0 calls for a 16.5 ton vehicle. At around 2.0 ton fully equipped, HOP will test the "small is good" philosophy for scientific fieldwork and surface exploration of a two member crew, as well as emergency procedures with additional crew members.

HOP also represents a "hop" on the way to a more ambitious hybrid-electric vehicle. Project Marsupial aims to design and construct a 1.5 ton derivative of Wombat (pictured). Wombat employs large diameter (~ 2 m) wheels on folding suspension struts that provide a wide wheelbase that packs into a smaller envelope.

A higher proportion of the Martian surface relative to Earth is covered in rubble and large wheels increase accessibility, mobility and ride comfort. This custom platform will provide maximum realism while also testing particular vehicle design concepts, contributing to the engineering database for future rovers.

Related Links
Mars Society Australian Chapter
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Mars In The Early 21st Century
Pasadena - Nov 6, 2000
In the wake of last year's twin Mars failures NASA's exploration program is undergoing a period of crisis and drastic redesign. And while the Outer Planets exploration program - or lack there of - has left a bitter taste for many involved, plans for Mars are pushing ahead as SpaceDaily's Bruce Moomaw reports from Pasadena, where members of NASA's Solar System Exploration Subcommittee met last week.

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