Delivery and Return Transport System (DARTS)


Getting to Mars
   Brief Summary
   Extensive Solution
   Manifest List

Landing on Mars
   Brief Summary
   Extensive Solution/Justification
   Landing Manifest

Returning to LEO
   Brief Summary
   Extensive Solution
   Returning Manifest

   Check terminology here.

Getting to Mars: Brief Summary


The basic requirement for the delivery and return spacecraft is that the system be fully capable of transporting the necessary mission payload to Mars.

Solution Summary:

The first step in designing the Delivery and Return Transport System (DARTS) will begin with modules being built on Earth. The individual modules can be sent to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) using Proton rockets and subsequently launched towards Mars. Proton rockets are Russian liquid propulsion rockets currently used to launch large payloads. A Proton rocket can carry 20,000 kg, the equivalent of three elephants, into LEO. However, Protons can only carry 4500kg, two-thirds of an elephant, on a trajectory to Mars.

Three different packages will be launched: the Communications Package, the Ion Propulsion Package (IPP), and the Nuclear Propulsion Package (NPP). The Communications Package will be launched to Mars during approximately the eleventh year of the mission timeline using three Protons. Once the Communications Package has neared Mars, the satellites will position themselves in geosynchronous orbits. The IPP modules will be launched to LEO using Protons about year 12, a year after the Communications Package. The IPP will be made up of a number of individual modules, each propelled to Mars via a spiral transfer trajectory by their own internal ion propulsion system. The individual modules will carry scientific equipment, surface robots, and a rover for the martian surface. Each module will resemble the system used by the Deep Space Probe, launched in the early '90s. The NPP modules will be launched to LEO using Protons, similar to the IPP launches. The NPP will contain the Transfer Habitat, the Earth return vehicle, the ascent capsule, and other items that the astronauts will need on their trip to Mars. The modules will then be assembled through the use of automatic docking in orbit, similar to the procedure used to dock supplies with the Russian space station Mir.

The NPP will not be launched from LEO until the IPP is confirmed to be in low Mars orbit (LMO) and undamaged. Also, the six-member crew will not be sent into LEO until the completion of the module assembly and testing. Once the Nuclear Propulsion Package has been assembled and the Ion Propulsion Package has successfully reached Lower Mars Orbit, the six-member crew will be sent up to the NPP in 2 Soyuz shuttle missions, a cost efficient method for sending astronauts into space. The Nuclear Propulsion Package will follow a free-return trajectory that will maximize the safety of the crew.


1. The choice of Proton rockets over the more modern Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) series Delta IV Rocket may or may not be the best choice. Delta IV rockets are the current rockets being contracted by Boeing. The American-made Delta IV rockets carry a higher price than the chosen Proton Series. More research will have to be conducted before it can be concluded that Protons are the absolute best choice.

2. Finding the delta v for the spiral transfer was beyond the scope of the course. To compensate, the delta v used in calculations was for a modified method of the spiral transfer found in Caltech's Mars Society's plan to Mars. In their plan, they also are using a chemical rocket followed by ion propulsion. Hence, their numbers for delta v's will closely resemble our numbers. But, keep in mind that some of the numbers obtained in our calculations may not be directly applicable to our situation.

mitCopyright © 2000 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Comments and questions to Last updated: 10 December, 2000