Jan 12, 2018 | By Benedict

Six astronauts from the Austrian Space Forum are going to Oman’s Dhofar desert for four weeks to stay in isolation and carry out experiments, simulating a mission to Mars. 3D printing will play an important role in the experiments.

Despite the use of advanced telescopes, in addition to rovers sent to the Red Planet to collect samples and visual data, humans don’t know exactly what lies upon the surface of Mars. They know enough, however, to recognize Mars-like terrain when they see it.

It turns out Dhofar desert in Oman looks a lot like the surface of Mars, which is why six astronauts from the Austrian Space Forum will spend a month in isolation there in an attempt to simulate a mission to Mars. Held in partnership with the Oman National Steering Committee, AMADEE-18, or the Mars Analogue Mission, is organizing a Mars simulation that will last four weeks and involve a series of 19 experiments.

The exercise is being described as a kind of dress rehearsal for future missions to Mars, when astronauts will have to survive similar conditions to the imposing Dhofar desert. The test site used for this practice run spans 120 square miles, identified as being especially similar to the Red Planet.

According to the AMADEE-18 scientists, the deserts of Dhofar have a resemblance to various Mars surface features, such as “sedimentary structures dating back to the Paleocene and Eocene, salt domes of the South Oman Salt Basin, and ancient river beds.” The site has both sand and rocky surfaces, and broad variability in inclination. Expected temperatures in February typically range between 16-27°C with less than 10 mm of precipitation.

The astronauts aren’t just attempting to survive the harsh conditions though: they’ve also got to carry out a series of 19 experiments similar to those that astronauts would look to carry out on any potential future Mars mission. These experiments will encompass astrobiology, geology, and other areas of study, and will utilize equipment like drones, robots, and a large inflatable greenhouse.

One particular experiment will be largely concerned with 3D printing, a technology that could be incredibly useful for fabricating structures on Mars. Part of the junior researchers program, the “A3DPT-2-Mars” experiment will involve the 3D printing of tools and parts during the four-week mission. “Among the 19 experiments, 3D printing will be crucial for future human missions to Mars,” commented Joao Lousada, Analog Astronaut and Deputy Field Commander at OeWF.

This is hardly the first instance of Mars-oriented 3D printing though. NASA continues to operate its long-running 3D Printed Habitat Challenge, which encourages students and amateur inventors to design 3D printed habitats that could be printed on Mars, while experts have long debated the respective merits of 3D printing with ice or 3D printing with Martian regolith.

Other experiments besides the 3D printing-focused A3DPT will involve DNA sequencing, which could help detect any life on Mars; a robotics experiment that uses an autonomous rover called “Husky”; a scanning mission for imaging the subsurface geological features of Mars; and “AVI-Nav,” a robotics experiment that will use an autonomous quad-copter with GPS and camera that will map the surrounding terrain.

The inflatable greenhouse will be used for an astrobiology experiment called “HortExtreme.” This will allow the crew to cultivate and grow their micro-greens on the Mars-like desert, preparing future Mars astronauts for the task of growing their own food.

Interestingly, there’s more to the 30-day mission than just replicating an isolated, sandy area. In order to truly simulate what a Mars mission would be like, the astronauts will work with a 10-minute signal delay between their base and the Mission Guidance Centre (MSC) in Innsbruck, Austria. This simulates the radio delay between Mars and Earth.

The mission will take place in February.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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