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WHAT This Opportunity Is About

NASA MarsPort 2001 enables up to six teams of students to conduct engineering trade and design studies in support of a MarsPort Cryogenics and Consumables Station (MCCS) for operation on the surface of Mars. Scientific knowledge, hands-on educational experience, public outreach tools, and publicity for the students and their schools in the teams' hometown news media will be its principal benefits.

Why a MarsPort study?

Perhaps as soon as the second decade of this new millennium, a crew of spacefarers from Earth will land on the planet Mars. They will work, explore, and conduct science experiments on the surface of Mars before climbing back into the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) for rendezvous with the Earth Return Vehicle (ERV) and the return trip home.

They and subsequent spacefarers will require a dependable infrastructure from which to launch spacecraft from the Martian surface.


The NASA Marsport 2001 Engineering Design Student Competition will evaluate multiple configurations for an MCCS to support human exploration of the Martian surface. Trade studies will be performed to determine the optimal configuration of the proposed MCCS. Key systematic characteristics of the MCCS design should include a minimal mass and lift-off volume approach. It should also exhibit an efficient thermal management methodology while operating within a constrained energy budget.

Mission Architecture

To enable an affordable human mission to Mars, making propellants and crew consumables from resources on the Martian surface will drastically reduce the mass of the mission. This process is known as In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU). For the first few missions, a large supply of liquid hydrogen will be brought from Earth and combined with the carbon dioxide present in the Martian atmosphere to make water and methane. Part of the water will be separated in a reactor into oxygen and hydrogen, the hydrogen will be recirculated back into the reactor. The oxygen and methane will be liquefied and stored as propellant for the MAV and rover fuel cell reactants. Some of the water and oxygen will be stored as an emergency cache for the crew. Additional gasses from the Martian atmosphere will be liquefied and stored for use as buffer gasses for breathing air, pneumatic tools/systems, purge gas, and other vital uses.

The first human missions to Mars will require several launches over a period of two years to establish a Base Camp for the crew on the Martian surface. The ERV will be put into orbit around Mars and the ISRU plant and MAV will be staged on the surface eighteen months prior to the crew lifting off from Earth. In that eighteen months the ISRU plant will produce all the propellants required for the MAV to lift the crew off the surface as well as a large cache of crew consumables, such as water and oxygen.

A second ISRU and MAV will be launched in conjunction with the first crew. This hardware will serve as the primary hardware for the second crewed mission, as well as a back-up system for the crew on the first mission.

A full description of this mission architecture is in the Design Reference Mission (DRM) 3.0 (including the 1998 addendum). These documents shall be considered the baseline for this competition. The DRM was written by the Exploration Office at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) and is considered a baseline against which to compare other mission architectures.

Mars Environmental Constraints

Teams should rely on information set forth in the Mars environmental references adopted for the MCCS design effort. The proposal team may select the landing site, but for the purpose of this competition it shall be located within +/- 15 degrees of the equator.


For the purpose of this competition, the ISRU chemical reactor producing the desired products to be used on the surface of Mars will be a Œblack box' with the following characteristics:

  1. Chemical Production (pre-habitation):
    • Water - 27.8 kg/day at 525° K. 1.5 atm
    • CH4 - 22.9 kg/day at 525° K. 1.5 atm
    • O2 - 53.2 kg/day at 300° K. 30 atm
    • N2 & Ar - 8.7 kg/day at 240° K. 0.3 atm
  2. Once produced and stored, the propellants and consumables caches must be maintained until the end of the mission.
  3. During human and rover operations on the surface, the MCCS will recycle as many consumables as possible, i.e. conserve as much hydrogen as possible.
  4. Rigid storage tank diameters are constrained by the earth launch vehicle diameters specified in the DRM.
  5. Production rates of the ISRU plant will vary significantly once the crew arrives on the surface. The propellant production required to leave the surface will have been completed.
  6. Propellant and consumable losses due to fugitive emissions are accounted for in the mass requirements.
  7. Storage requirements for propellants and consumables prior to the crew arrival are:
  8. Propellants:
    • LCH4 - 5.8 metric tons
    • LOX - 20.2 metric tons
  9. Consumables:
    • Breathing O2 - 4.5 metric tons
    • Water - 23.2 metric tons
    • N2/Ar Buffer Gas - 3.9 metric tons
  10. Design life for this system will be six years. Systems must be designed for maximum reliability with no capability of human intervention, prior to crew arrival, to replace failed hardware. The design of the system shall not preclude robotic replacement of failed components. If such a concept is considered, teams will define logistics methodology and sparing requirements.

Any assumptions made and trade criteria used shall be documented in the body of the students' proposals.

Task Definition


The Marsport Cryogenic and Consumables Station will liquefy and store all methane, oxygen and buffer gasses produced by the ISRU plant. All boil-off gasses shall be captured and liquefied. The storage of water is not necessarily constrained to liquid form. All ISRU feedstocks and products are extremely valuable and techniques to recycle these commodities shall be identified in the design approach.


Storage of the cryogens on the surface has endless possibilities. The size and number of tanks is to be determined by the proposal teams. The tanks must fit in the existing architecture as defined in the DRM. The proposal teams will also define the material selection and insulation concepts. There will be propellant tanks on the MAV that must be systematically considered (e.g., is it more economical to have well insulated tanks on the vehicle and store all the propellant there or is it better to have lightweight, poorly insulated tanks that are filled just prior to the astronauts' departure?)


The distribution system will address MAV propellant loading, servicing rovers (both manned and unmanned), astronauts' EVA suits, and moving caches of water and breathing air from the MCCS to the crew habitat 1 km away. The distribution system must address recycling precious commodities back into the ISRU plant. Concepts for contingency operations shall also be addressed, e.g. ISRU #1 to MAV #2 or Hab #2.

Thermal Management

The thermal management of the entire ISRU and MCCS must be addressed and options traded to determine the most thermally efficient use of resources. The crew habitat will be considered a stand-alone system and not addressed here.

Concept of Operations

A concept of operations will be developed to tie all aspects of the MCCS operation together - Liquefaction, Storage, Distribution and Thermal Management. The concept should identify hardware and procedures needed for the MCCS during its surface mission - both remote operations and man tended, once the astronauts arrive.


The NASA MarsPort Engineering Design Student Competition 2001 program is jointly sponsored by NASA and Science Applications International Corporation, and is jointly administered by the Florida Space Grant Consortium and the Texas Space Grant Consortium.


Last Modified: Mon Apr 09, 2001