WASHINGTON – The Mars One colonization project plans to bring live video of the surface of Mars to Earth via a privately built communications satellite and lander to launch as part of an unmanned mission to the Red Planet in 2018.
"When we land on Mars, we will have the most unique video footage in the solar system," Mars One co-founder and CEO Bas Lansdorp said in a news conference on Dec. 10. "Anyone with Internet access will be able to see what the weather's like on Mars."
Lansdorp said public engagement is a driving force for Mars One, which aims to land humans on the Red Planet by 2025. The Netherlands-based nonprofit has said it plans to finance the settlement mission in part through a reality TV show, for which a live video feed will be crucial. [Photos: How Mars One Wants to Colonize the Red Planet]
For its unmanned mission in 2018, Mars One has partnered with Surrey Satellite Technology, Ltd. (SSTL) to develop a concept for the communications satellite, which will be in Mars-synchronous orbit and provide a high-bandwidth link to relay data and live video from the planet's surface.
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"Surrey has specialized over the last three decades on changing the economics of space," SSTL executive chairman Sir Martin Sweeting said at the conference. He added, "the commercialization of space exploration is vital in order to bring down costs and schedules and fuel progress."
SSTL has been a pioneer in the small-satellite industry, beginning in the 1970s with its use of commercial off-the-shelf components. The British company, which is owned by the Astrium group, made the first European Galileo lunar satellite, and the Mars One orbiter will be based on technology that started with that system, Sweeting said.
The high radiation levels that will be experienced during the journey to Mars pose a challenge, but SSTL gained experience working in such environments during the development of its moon-studying spacecraft. Sweeting said that in some ways, the Mars orbiter will be easier to operate than lunar orbiters, because the satellite maneuvers for Mars will be a bit simpler.
Mars One has contracted with security and aerospace company Lockheed Martin to develop a mission concept for the lander, which will be based on the design of NASA's Phoenix lander, which found evidence of water ice on Mars. The Mars One lander will be equipped with a digging arm and several demonstration experiments, including a water-extraction experiment, officials said.
Lansdorp and officials at SSTL and Lockheed Martin expressed excitement for the first private mission to Mars.
"You can't go to Mars on excitement," Lansdorp said. "But we are more confident than ever that we can make the first unmanned mission a reality. This is probably the most important and most difficult step of getting humans to Mars."