Heating Mars with mirrors

The goal of this project is to heat a one-square kilometer area of Mars' surface by using space mirrors. The plan is to establish a 1.5-kilometer diameter array made up of 150-meter-diameter mylar balloons that would collect sunlight and shine it down over a future Mars base camp where the temperature would be 20°C.

This University of Arizona (UA) project doesn't want to 'terraform' the whole Red Planet. In fact, this project is funded with a very modest $9,000 grant from NASA and just wants to heat a one-square kilometer area of Mars' surface by using space mirrors as reports New Scientist. The plan is to establish a 1.5-kilometer diameter array made up of 150 segmented, 150-meter-diameter mylar balloons that would collect sunlight and shine it down over a future Mars base camp where the temperature would be 20°C. But read more...

This project is the idea of Rigel Woida, an engineering student at UA in Tucson -- and probably of his father too. Both work at UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. Rigel Woida received one of the five annual grants given by the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts. Here is the list of the five winners.

But let's go back to the New Scientist article for more details about the project.

The concept calls for 300 reflective balloons, each 150 metres across, arranged side-by-side to create a 1.5-kilometre-wide mirror in orbit around Mars. The mirror would focus sunlight onto a 1-kilometre-wide patch of Mars's surface. This would raise the temperature in this patch to a balmy 20° Celsius (68° Fahrenheit) from Mars's typical surface temperature of between -140° C and -60° C (-220° and -76° F).
The extra warmth would mean the astronauts would not need heavily insulated suits or living quarters, allowing them to work more easily. The extra sunlight would also boost power from solar cells.

Below is a picture of an orbiting array of reflective balloons (Credit: Rigel Woida, via New Scientist). Here is a link to a larger version.

Woida's Mars mirrors.jpg

When UA News announced in May 2006 that two UA undergrads won NASA fellowships for visionary space projects, it provided other details.

"The goal of the 'Road to Mars' project is to bring a small area of Mars' surface to Earth ambient temperature" so humans could explore and, eventually, colonize Mars, Woida said.
"I adjusted the aperture so the reflector would heat a square-kilometer of Mars' surface to roughly Tucson daytime illumination and temperatures," Woida said. "This would have immediate benefits for the astronauts. It would increase the light level, solar panel energy collection and bring the temperature of that part of the planet up to Earth's. Astronauts wouldn't have to work in freezing temperatures or spend energy thawing frozen water -- water they need for manufacturing fuel to return to Earth, as well as water needed for consumption. "

This project will be supervised by optical sciences professor Eustace Dereniak, of the Optical Detection Lab, and assistant research professor Robert Stone.

For your information, Woida is involved in a much bigger NASA project, the $385 million Phoenix Mars Lander, as reported Matt Andazola for the Arizona Daily Wildcat on October 23, 2006.

It really looks like Woida would like to go to Mars -- and feel comfy...

Sources: David Shiga, New Scientist, November 14, 2006; and various websites

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