Work done in Russia in preparation for a Martian mission

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Engineering experiments aimed at testing and developing engineering solutions for a future interplanetary vehicle were a prominent activity during missions of Salyut and Mir space stations. On these space stations, large truss structures were deployed, various materials and surfaces were exposed to space environment, closed water and oxygen loops life support systems were tested, etc.

An important result of the work done on the space stations was the development of equipment supporting long-duration manned space missions and a test of the human body responses to such a mission. Such a work could only be done on-board space stations.

Today, it can be stated that we have already traveled a considerable part of the way towards organizing the first manned mission to Mars.

Areas of activities Completed work When
Energia launch vehicle Developed in 1987. It has passed developmental flight tests 1987-1988
In-orbit assembly scheme A system for assembling the vehicle elements has passed developmental tests. More than 200 dockings were performed. 1965-2000
Truss deployment experiments Experiments with various truss and reflector shapes were conducted on-board Salyut and Mir 1982-2000
Film-type solar array A thin-film solar array with amorphous silicon (20 microns thick) was exposed to space environment on Mir space station 1998
Prototype modules A line of prototype Martian modules delivered to a space station on Progress spacecraft has been developed. The first Module-M is in the test phase. 1998-2001
Electrical rocket engines DAS engines have been developed. Engine DAS-55 operated in orbit (STEX) 1972
Life support systems Closed oxygen and water loop systems have been developed. 1982-2000
Control systems Multi-computer systems have been built and developed, prototype systems exist. 1987-2000
Experience in long-duration missions A procedure for long-duration mission support has been developed, there have been several missions lasting longer than 1-1.5 years. 1971-2000

Launch vehicle Energia before its lift-off (1987)
A docking of Progress spacecraft with Mir space station

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A Space Shuttle docking with Mir space station

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Development of long-duration missions on space stations Salyut and Mir

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At present, launch vehicles have been developed that are capable of putting into a low Earth orbit individual parts of the Martian vehicle. It would require, for example, 6-7 launches of Energia- or Saturn 5B-class launch vehicles.
An automatic docking system has been developed which will allow to incrementally assemble individual parts of the vehicle into an integrated structure..
Such system has already been used in about 150 automatic dockings with Salyut and Mir space station.

The space stations were used to study human body behavior when exposed to long-term spaceflight environments, to develop life support systems with closed oxygen and water loops. That is, the systems where oxygen and water consumed by the crew are recovered for re-use after special physical and chemical processing.

The experience of a long-duration manned space flight already exists. Three cosmonauts worked on-board Mir for about 1 year, while cosmonaut and physician Valeri Polyakov has completed a mission to the space station lasting for almost a year and a half, during which medical research important for future interplanetary missions was conducted.

Film-type solar arrays also exist. In October 1998, cosmonauts placed on the outside surface of Mir space station some samples of film-type solar array, which constitutes a key element of the Martian vehicle, in order to study how they are affected by actual space environments. These samples have been returned to Earth and are being studied. But it's not too early to say that the results look good.
Electrical rocket engines are widely used in space technology, and anode layer engines (of the DAS type) look very promising for use in the Martian vehicle from the standpoint of their service life, specific impulse and reliability. These Russian engines have been flight-tested in orbit on the US STEX satellite.
Space stations Salyut and Mir provided an experience in the deployment of long truss structures, which are required as a base to support film-like solar arrays (trusses Mayak, Rapana, Sofora and other). No serious problems are foreseen for the deployment of 300-meter trusses.
The least developed element of the interplanetary vehicle system is the landing and ascent spacecraft. Development of such a spacecraft is a complex but feasible engineering problem. The experience in landing robotic spacecraft on the planet exists, and this experience can be used for the development of manned landers as well. There is also an experience in astronauts' landing on and taking off from the lunar surface under Apollo program which should also be used in the development of the Martian mission elements.


Experimental film-type solar array

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Tests of an anode layer
electrical rocket engine

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Developmental tests
of various designs for transformable
truss structures for solar arrays

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