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Logistics is a Key Enabler of Sustainable Human Mars Missions

A white paper discussing the importance of the role of logistics planning in architecting future sustainable human missions to Mars.

Published onJan 17, 2020
Logistics is a Key Enabler of Sustainable Human Mars Missions

The full white paper is available as the following PDF file:

Its Executive Summary is reproduced below.

Executive Summary

Logistics supply chains are a critical component of any sustained human operations occurring over large distances in unfamiliar environments. The importance of these supply chains has historically been demonstrated by military campaigns as well as all major exploration efforts from the Lewis and Clark Expedition, to Antarctic expeditions, to the multiple long duration space stations that have flown in low Earth orbit. This White Paper explores the question: What does the logistics supply chain for a sustainable human presence on Mars look like?

As a starting point, we review two particularly relevant present-day examples of robust exploration logistics supply chains, namely, those supporting the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station (SPS) on the Antarctic continent, and the International Space Station (ISS) in low Earth orbit. At these two locations, continuous human presence has been enabled by a combination of: (1). multimodal logistics systems that facilitate multiple delivery pathways to the end-user; (2). generous stores of contingency supplies accessible from different locations within the logistics network; and (3). the exploitation of locally available resources through direct extraction and/or waste product recycling. Over time, the implementation of these strategies has been refined to operate reliably in their respective exploration environments.

Accomplishing continuous human presence on Mars will likely be far more challenging than what has been achieved in the Antarctic South Pole and low Earth orbit environments, due to the increased travel distances, diminished opportunities for crew abort, and greater energy needed to transfer crew and cargo to and from the Martian surface. Regardless, our review finds persistent logistics lessons and strategies learned from the SPS and ISS programs that are applicable to sustaining human presence on Mars. Based on these insights, we explore the various decisions that govern the Mars logistics tradespace, and propose a set of specific follow-on tasks needed to better inform the development of a future Mars logistics system. These tasks seek to:

  • determine baseline logistics requirements for transits to/from Mars, and for various classes of surface missions up to and including permanent human presence, employing different levels of in-situ resource utilization;

  • determine the implications of introducing logistics nodes in cislunar space (such as the Lunar Orbiting Platform - Gateway currently under development by NASA) and/or in Martian orbit, to create the foundations of a logistics supply network to Mars; and to

  • understand the impacts of landing site selection on in situ water availability, surface system architecture, and accessibility to a potential Mars orbital logistics node.

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