New idea being funded for Phase I NIAC research, to be undertaken by aerospace firm, SpaceWorks, led by John Bradford. Phase I is for feeling out the next steps in developing the idea to a higher “Technology Readiness Level”, the standard for assessing practicality of concepts that NASA uses. The SpaceWorks NIAC abstract has the following description of the stasis-equipped Mars vehicle:
The habitat is envisioned as a very small, pressurized module that is docked around a central node/airlock permitting direct access to the Mars ascent/descent vehicle and Earth entry capsule by the crew. We believe the crew habitat mass can be reduced to only 5-7 mt (for a crew of 4-6), compared to 20-50 mt currently. The total habitat module volume would be on the order of 20 m3, compared to 200 m3 for most current designs.
The interesting thing about that mass-figure is that SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy should be able to throw a capsule of that mass, with sufficient aeroshell for braking and fuel for landing, to Mars. Such a One-Way ride, with 4-6 months of the interplanetary cruise in torpor, would be for colonists only or for cheap crew transport, if a separate return system is available. Call it the Martian “Sleeper-Car (Coach Class)”. If we got serious about colonizing Mars, then it might be a bargain basement approach used by smaller groups wanting to stake their own claim on the Red Planet. Presently the cost would be ~$200 million, factoring in the cost of developing the torpor system, but with a successful fully-reusable version of the Falcon Heavy’s lower stages (the Mars-Injection Stage would be slung into a “never-to-return” trajectory by just doing its job) the cost might drop significantly. Mass-production would allow thousands to launch to Mars, One-way, for perhaps ~$1 M/person.
Presently Mars isn’t very hospitable, but with sufficient motivation, we could build a thriving colony in one (or more) of the vast lava tubes that have been revealed via orbital cameras. If C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) were to smash into a Martian Polar Cap, 19 October 2014, then the release of water vapour and carbon dioxide (presently enclathrated in the Cap or frozen in the soil) might induce a shift to a more clement Mars, as I have blogged previously. We might then find the motivation to fly the “Sleeper-Car” to Mars.