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Comparison of Four Space Propulsion Methods for Reducing Transfer Times of Crewed Mars Missions


We assess the possibility of reducing the travel time of a crewed mission to Mars by examining four different propulsion methods and keeping the mass at departure under 2500 t, for a fixed architecture. We evaluated representative systems of three different state of the art technologies (chemical, nuclear thermal and electric) and one advance technology, the “Pure Electro-Magnetic Thrust” (PEMT) concept (proposed by Rubbia). A mission architecture mostly based on the Design Reference Architecture 5.0 is assumed in order to estimate the mass budget, that influences the performance of the propulsion system. Pareto curves of the duration of the mission and time of flight versus mass of mission are drawn. We conclude that the ion engine technology, combined with the classical chemical engine, yields the shortest mission times for this architecture with the lowest mass and that chemical propulsion alone is the best to minimise travel time. The results obtained using the PEMT suggest that it could be a more suitable solution for farther destinations than Mars.

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The work of Paulo J. S. Gil was supported by FCT, through IDMEC, under LAETA, project UIDB/50022/2020. The authors would like to thank John Brophy for helpful comments and suggestions on some issues of this manuscript. On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to André G. C. Guerra.

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Guerra, A.G.C., Bertolami, O. & Gil, P.J.S. Comparison of Four Space Propulsion Methods for Reducing Transfer Times of Crewed Mars Missions. J Astronaut Sci 69, 284–311 (2022).

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  • Crewed Mission
  • Mars
  • Chemical Propulsion
  • Nuclear Propulsion
  • Electric Propulsion
  • Electro-Magnetic Propulsion