TEMPO3: the Mars Society’s newest project
by Tom Hill and Alex Kirk
|To date, very little practical research has been conducted into the generation of artificial gravity in space; while NASA began to examine the issue in the Gemini days, it was abandoned during Apollo, and has not been re-examined since.|
I (Alex) first heard of TEMPO3 back in late May, when Tom approached me to discuss the feasibility of people who lack decades of experience actually writing the software for the mission. After some review of the platform he was proposing, I was happy to advise him that it was indeed doable by non-professionals. I didn’t think much more of it after the project was submitted—after all, it was a good idea, but Tom and I agreed: who was to say that it would be chosen out of all the other excellent ideas being submitted for the MPC? At this point, I suppose the answer is “the members of the Mars Society, that’s who.”
While it’s clear that Tom and I are biased, we feel that the Mars Society chose well. To date, very little practical research has been conducted into the generation of artificial gravity in space; while NASA began to examine the issue in the Gemini days, it was abandoned during Apollo, and has not been re-examined since. Few, if any, private research projects have been conducted. Given that astronauts on a six-month trip to Mars will want to be in tip-top shape when they arrive on the Red Planet, ensuring that they’re not suffering from the potentially debilitating effects of an extended period of zero gravity will be a high priority for mission planners. With decades of study into medical solutions for reversing those effects yielding little in the way of results, determining whether spacecraft can supply astronauts with artificial gravity is a logical next step.
It also makes a great deal of sense for the Mars Society specifically to conduct this research. With the looming human spaceflight gap after the Space Shuttle’s retirement and a plethora of highly successful robotic probes to manage, NASA’s hands are clearly too full to take on a project like this. If successful, the project will help to remove one of the major objections to sending humans to Mars, thus advancing the Society’s primary goal. In the meantime, TEMPO3 will provide our members and the Society as a whole with invaluable spaceflight experience, while simultaneously helping to draw in new members through the excitement of having a project that will actually fly into space. Best of all, the project is within budgetary reach: with an estimated total project cost of $250,000–500,000, raising the cash to do the mission will be challenging, but perfectly achievable.
What is the relationship between this project and the Mars Gravity Biosatellite? The projects are complementary. The Biosatellite is concerned with the long-term effects exposure to Mars gravity has on mammals. By launching mice into Earth orbit for a period of time, we will gain valuable insight into how partial gravity impacts mammalian processes. In short, Mars Gravity Biosatellite deals with life on Mars, while TEMPO3 deals with life on the way to Mars.
For now, though, the primary task is to flesh out the details of the project, which existed only in proposal form until a week ago Saturday. With that in mind, a word to all those who are interested in the nitty-gritty technical aspects of TEMPO3 is in order: please don’t blame us if the following details change over the course of the project. We’re more interested in flying a successful mission than being tied to any one way of doing things, so everything is subject to change.
In its current state, TEMPO3 plans to use the CubeSat system, a low-cost picosatellite platform developed by California Polytechnic State University and Stanford University specifically as a way to help low-budget entities such as universities and private organizations enter the world of spaceflight. With the availability of CubeSat Kits as reasonably priced off-the-shelf solutions, CubeSat is an obvious choice to help the Mars Society maximize reliability and features while minimizing cost and development time. Better still, dozens of CubeSat missions have flown since 2003, and launch services are available as part of the package.
As the name implies, gravity generation will be done by spinning the main satellite along with a tethered counterweight, a project that aligns nicely with what you’d expect on an actual Mars mission, where you could use a spent booster stage as the counterweight. Upon reaching orbit, the satellite will use a magnetic coil for attitude control and cold CO2 thrusters to deploy the counterweight and generate the initial velocity necessary for making the two parts of the craft spin fast enough to generate the desired amount of artificial gravity. If possible, the project also aims to demonstrate the generation of delta-v while spinning, though mission constraints may preclude this.
The timeline for the mission is still under development. Roughly speaking, the goal is to have enough of the design in place to be able to present at the CubeSat developer’s conference, which is held annually in April on the Cal Poly campus; this would double as an opportunity to begin looking for a ride into space. Once design is complete, the actual satellite kit would be purchased, with a 12-month window for assembly and testing. From there, the mission would launch as soon as its chosen ride is ready.
|The entire mission will be run, start to finish, by an all-volunteer staff composed of hardware designers and fabricators, software engineers, PR-minded writers, and others.|
As mentioned on the project’s newly christened web page, Tom intends to follow the SpaceX model of outreach, specifically, one that releases open and honest details about the project’s progress on a frequent basis. Additional details about the project, including a reference design and a full copy of the initial proposal, will be online soon, with more to come as the process moves forward into a more concrete reality.
In the meantime, TEMPO3 is eagerly seeking volunteers to help out with the project. The entire mission will be run, start to finish, by an all-volunteer staff composed of hardware designers and fabricators, software engineers, PR-minded writers, and others. Some of the most crucial volunteers will be those helping raise funds: while the Mars Society is committed to funding the project as much as possible, as a non-profit its resources are limited to what it can raise from generous donors large and small.
If you’re looking to help advance the cause of human spaceflight and want to become involved in the project, please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org explaining what you want to do and briefly outlining your experience in your area of interest (which will allow us to organize the group in a way that maximizes everyone’s ability to contribute). For those who cannot donate their time or expertise, we are gladly accepting fiscal donations of any size through the Mars Society web site; please note that the donation is for TEMPO3 in the comments area on PayPal so that the funds will be applied appropriately. With your help, we can bring humanity one step closer to becoming a multi-planet species!