Refueling at the Moon May Be the Best Option for a Piloted Mission to Mars
Launching humans to Mars may not require a full tank of gas: A new MIT study suggests that a Martian mission may lighten its launch load considerably by refueling on the moon.
Previous studies have suggested that lunar soil and water ice in certain craters of the moon may be mined and converted to fuel. Assuming that such technologies are established at the time of a mission to Mars, the MIT group has found that taking a detour to the moon to refuel would reduce the mass of a mission upon launch by 68 percent.
The group developed a model to determine the best route to Mars, assuming the availability of resources and fuel-generating infrastructure on the moon. Based on their calculations, they determined the optimal route to Mars, in order to minimize the mass that would have to be launched from Earth — often a major cost driver in space exploration missions.
They found the most mass-efficient path involves launching a crew from Earth with just enough fuel to get into orbit around the Earth. A fuel-producing plant on the surface of the moon would then launch tankers of fuel into space, where they would enter gravitational orbit. The tankers would eventually be picked up by the Mars-bound crew, which would then head to a nearby fueling station to gas up before ultimately heading to Mars.
Image: New research from MIT shows that stopping at the moon may be the best option for a piloted mission to Mars, revealing that fueling up on the moon could streamline cargo by 68 percent.
Credit: Christine Daniloff/MIT