6
$\begingroup$

It's well known that SpaceX has a long term goal of getting people on Mars. Let's assume some time has elapsed since humanity's transition to Mars.

Due to lack of transport infrastructure and hostile terrain, humanity has settled down in separate zones set up in relatively habitable areas on the planet's surface. But now, it is observed that some people(scientists and such) will need to organize meetings for exchange of information. Due to vast distances between zones, planes are the only medium which can be used for transport.

What will the planes on Mars be like? Will hypersonic planes be the norm? Travelling by air on Mars needs you to be fast:

The tricky thing is that with so little atmosphere, to get any lift, you have to go fast. You need to approach Mach 1 just to get off the ground, and once you get moving, you have so much inertia that it’s hard to change course—if you turn, your plane rotates, but keeps moving in the original direction.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ I think that once you get to Mars, you're pretty much going to stay put wherever you are. You won't get out much. Any information exchange will be done electronically. An Areostationary orbit would be about 11,000 miles, (about 1/3 the distance to geostationary orbit for Earth) so internet by satellite will have a bit less latency. Only material objects would need to be transported, and suborbital flight would be better, cheaper, and faster. $\endgroup$ – Howard Miller Apr 2 '16 at 15:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think you have underestimated the cost of going fast, and overestimated the value of meetings. $\endgroup$ – Sean Boddy Apr 2 '16 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ Even on Earth today, physically going to meetings for exchange of information is a massive waste of time & resources. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 2 '16 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ I mention that only because Internet connectivity will take time to, or be impossible to, conventionally deploy on Mars. $\endgroup$ – cst1992 Apr 2 '16 at 19:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Mars already has a global internet. It won't take time to deploy: it will roll out with the arrivals. Any habitat will include data connectivity, and as soon as there's more than one tbey will ensure a fat data pipe between them. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Apr 2 '16 at 22:38
5
$\begingroup$

Until terraforming makes the Martian atmosphere much denser, air transportation on Mars is going to be very difficult. Since much of the transportation industry is based on economics, hypersonic aircraft on Mars will be about as likely as hypersonic transports here on Earth (i.e. only as a very specialized niche mode).

Practical aircraft for Mars will resemble huge gliders, since the massive wing surfaces will be needed for take off and landing, as well as delivering lift in the thin atmosphere. An alternative might be blimps or Zeppelins, but given the thin atmosphere of Mars, the lifting bags will be even more enormous in proportion to the payload than a similar airship on Earth.

enter image description here

IF high speed transportation is needed across large areas of Mars, it might be more practical to use a suborbital rocket: simply blast on a ballistic trajectory to your target, and fire the retro rockets as you come in for a landing (much like SpaceX did with their successful recovery of a first stage booster on their land recovery pad).

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I agree about suborbital flights being more sensible. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Apr 2 '16 at 22:37
2
$\begingroup$

Dedicated transport aircraft won't be practical until Mars has a population of millions and the industrial base to build them - you can't simply reuse an Earth design, and developing a new aircraft type is very expensive.

Instead, you use what you have - a reusable lander that can reach orbit also has sufficient range to reach any point on the planet. The only infrastructure you need to enable frequent travel is fuel production.

Since moving small payloads fast is easily covered by the landers, the first dedicated craft will be for moving large payloads slowly - for example transporting resources that cannot be mined close to the base.

Airships are a definite possibility for that, though surface transport may be more practical depending on the terrain involved.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Well, you make a good point. I think this is why SpaceX has become so popular - by developing a landable first stage of a rocket, they'll be able to cut costs for your scenario considerably. $\endgroup$ – cst1992 Apr 5 '16 at 6:21
  • $\begingroup$ It isn't a matter of cutting costs - that is only relevant for using the technology on Earth, where a single use rocket built on the ground is a viable option. A rocket taking off from Mars had to be built on Earth, so you basically can't do a manned Mars mission without having something that can both land and take off. $\endgroup$ – Quentin Clarkson Apr 5 '16 at 9:58
0
$\begingroup$

All flights on Mars will depend on expending lots of fuel, making them extremely expensive. Government leaders and billionaires will fly SpaceX. Scientists will take Elon Musk's Hyperloop instead.

Even winged aircraft will need to take off and land using rockets for lift, as there is no safe way touch the ground at Mach 1, which is the point at which the wings would generate enough lift for stable flight (as mentioned in the question). Take off could be made more efficient by means of magnetic catapults, but landing an airplane of any significant mass will require vertical thrust from rockets.

Mars' thin atmosphere and geological stability makes rail transport, whether enclosed (the Hyperloop) or simply a raised metal track, a much cheaper solution in the long run. The investment for construction may be higher than that for a rocket fuel refinery, but operating costs should be much lower.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Fuel should actually be relatively cheap - it's the only thing that can be produced locally from day one. $\endgroup$ – Quentin Clarkson Apr 6 '16 at 5:07
0
$\begingroup$

Mars has just over one third Earth gravity and there is an atmosphere which can burn up spacecraft on entry. The mainly carbon dioxide atmosphere is denser when equated to equal pressure of Earths atmosphere. All this makes aerodynamic flight less difficult.

Because it is not a vacuum, aircraft will behave the same as on Earth. However take off and landing speeds will be higher but not as much as might be thought. Take off speeds of 200 to 300 mph are possible. There is no oxygen to help fuel burn so the obvious choice of power is electric propulsion. Batteries charged by nuclear power or solar power would be feasible. Elon Musk is keen on electrically powered aircraft.

Runways would need to be built for normal winged aircraft. But VTOL drone technology should be possible. The blade design would need to be altered possibly and rpm would be higher.

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.