Finally, nuclear is not the best solution for colonies on Mars

Des chercheurs de l’université de Californie à Berkeley (États-Unis) viennent de déterminer que l’énergie solaire pourrait être la plus efficace pour soutenir l’exploration de la planète Mars. © Sasa Kadrijevic, Adobe Stock


Go to Mars, that’s good. Moving there is even better. But for all this, energy will be needed. Electricity in particular. And as on Earth, the question now is how to produce it. As on Earth, solar and nuclear energy seem to want to pull their blanket. Which of the two will be the winner? Researchers have their idea.

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Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) is a research station located at an altitude of about 2,500 meters, in a dome of about 110 square meters, on the sides of the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii. The goal: to simulate the lives of colonial people who will go to settle on the Moon or Mars. Not only to understand how astronauts can interact with each other in difficult conditions, but also to develop the most appropriate methods and equipment for life and research on the Moon and Mars. © HI-SEAS

Experts say it over and over again, in context global warming where we live, we oppose nuclear power generation and the production of electricity from renewable sources does not make sense. On Earth, however. But now the debate has suddenly reached an unexpected height. With exports to the planet Mars. While most of the engineers who worked on the query had validated the nuclear option as the best alternative, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley (United States) are revealing today that solar energy could produce all the electricity they needed for future Mars settlers. For extended mission and even for permanent installation on the Red Planet.

Recall that the Nasa has been working for several years to develop microscopic nuclear reactors called kilogram. Reactors that can operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And engineers today consider it safe and effective in supporting exploration roboticsbut also a man from Mars.

LARGE’solar power, presents with some of the same disadvantages as we know on Earth. The electricity produced in this way must be stored if it is to be used at night. And on Mars, storms dust sometimes shadows the sky, covering everything with a red veil. We remember that of error by NASA Opportunity was forced to take a break from one of these storms in 2019.

Energy needs are difficult to estimate

But researchers at the University of California did not want to stop there. To compare the two solutions, they chose a systemic approach. Considering a mission to Mars 480 days, including travel time of approximately 420 days. Because they do not know exactly what the energy needs of such a mission will be, the physicists constructed a mathematical model to explore different scenarios. Scenarios that include for example the needs for temperature and pressure control, for the production of fertilizer forAgriculture Mars, for the production of methane that will supply its propellant rocket intended for return to Earth or for the production of bioplastics.

They contrast these needs with the production capabilities of a nuclear Kilopower and photovoltaic production systems combined with three storage options. Simple batteries, its productionhydrogen directly from photoelectrochemical cells or hydrogen production from electrolysis. A hydrogen that could then, as some envision on Earth, be used to supply fuel cells during the Martian night or during the famous dust storms.

Solar energy could be the most interesting

As a result, on almost half the surface of Mars – especially in the equator – solar energy is finally presented as a more interesting solution than nuclear energy. If and only if, however, solar production is combined with a hydrogen electrolysis system.

A matter of efficiency, but above all, of the weight of solar panels. For landing location nearequator, for example, the researchers estimate that the total weight of the built-in solar panels – plus the hydrogen storage system – would be about 8.3 tonnes – for a rocket with a payload of 100 tonnes. -, compared to 9.5 tonnes for a Kilopower reactor system. Enough to possibly consider transporting emergency panels. Something that would not be possible for the nuclear system. The researchers point out, however, that their work is only valid given the flexible solar panels that have recently been developed. Lighter because they do without structures inside steel or even glass supports such as those that look traditional roofs of our good old Earth.

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