Designing Spacecraft to Mars

Overview for Designing a Spacecraft to Mars

Humans have never been to Mars, but we hope they will one day. But we have been to the Moon and manned missions are much more exciting to think about then robotic missions, so the spacecraft that put the first human beings on the Moon has been chosen for an example of Spacecraft.

ROCKET – Saturn V

The Saturn five rocket is the largest rocket ever built standing at 363 feet and a horse power of 190 million (about 190 thousand times greater then the fastest Formula 1 car). It allowed a large payload to be lifted into space.

Saturn V

This payload being a Spacecraft including the life support, fuel, food and three human beings, to take to the Moon and back. Above you can see all of the parts of the craft, the Command Module (Lander) and three astronauts being the only part that eventually returned to Earth. There is also the Lunar Module (Lander) named Eagle which landed on the Moon with two astronauts and returned them safely back to the orbiting Service module (An Orbiter).

Apollo Spacecraft

Apollo BuggyLater Apollo missions also included a Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) (A Rover).

The Apollo missions are a great example of how important designing a spacecraft is, unfortunately not all missions have been successful.

The Apollo 13 mission which never made it to the Moon – all the Astronauts survived and returned to Earth.

The Beagle 2 lander didn’t survive it’s landing on Mars.

Examples of Mars Missions

The Mariner spacecraft were the first to visit Mars and take the first close up photographs of the red planet. They were launched by Atlas Agena (Marina 4 being the first man made object to visit Mars during a flyby mission in 1965) and Atlas Centaur rocket are some of the very first spacecraft to travel to other planets in our solar system. The American, Mariner 9 was launched in 1971 to become the first spacecraft to orbit another planet. Followed closely by the Russian Mars 2 and 3.

Click an image below to view the full sized version.

The Russian, Soviet Mars Program, Mars 3 Lander was the first Mars Lander, it was carried to Mars by the Mars 3 spacecraft which acted as an Orbiter to relay data back to Earth. They were launched from Earth by Proton K rocket in 1971. Click an image below to view the full sized version.

In 1976 NASAs Viking Program launched 2 Landers to Mars. These became the first spacecraft to successfully land on Mars and complete their mission. Launching onboard a Titan IIIE Centaur rocket, the Viking spacecraft successfully traveled to and orbited Mars, releasing the Viking lander (Pictured below with famous Space Scientist and author Carl Sagan) which successfully landed on Mars and remained operational for 2307 Earth days (or 2245 Mars days).

In 1996 NASA launched the first Rover to operate successfully on Mars (After two failed attempts by the Russian Prop-M Rovers) Launching on-board the Delta 2 rocket, the Mars Pathfinder Lander was carried to Mars by rocket and successfully deployed the Sojourner rover. (A biblical word meaning Traveller)

In 2003 Europe and the UK send their own orbiter and lander to Mars as part of the Mars Express Mission, while the Mars Express itself successfully launched on board the Russian Soyuz rocket and traveled to Mars to complete its mission as an orbiter, sadly the Beagle 2 was lost on landing. (It has since been located)

Europe is continuing its Mars exploration with the Aurora programme and its flagship ExoMars mission. Working with the UK and Russia it is hoped to send robotic missions to Mars and Human missions by the 2030s.

The first mission was the launch of the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) which launched in 2016 on the Russian Proton-M rocket. Sadly its Schiaparelli lander, while completing its primary role as a demonstration lander, did not survive the landing to study the Mars surface.

However its seven year mission to search for life on Mars is currently in progress and hopefully it will provide useful data for planetary scientists.

Europe, the UK and Russia are not the only ones with their eye on the eventual human exploration of Mars, Mars One, Space X and others, are also interested on being first to Mars.

One example is the Falcon 9 Rocket, which will hopefully launch the first Dragon capsules and Red Dragon lander to Mars, to carry robotic and eventually human explorers to Mars.

Your Mission – Design Your Own Spacecraft

A planetary mission to Mars requires a Rocket, but these all look very different and a payload, also called a spacecraft, which sometimes doubles as an orbiter or it may simply be a rocket to get the lander or rover to Mars. We can build rockets and payloads out of all kinds of things, below is an example of a Soyuz Rocket and Spacecraft as well as a landing module, solar panels and other technical instruments. When designing your spacecraft and rocket consider how it will communicate with Earth, how it will generate electricity and how it will land safely. The more thought you put into your design the more likely your mission will be successful. Afterwards take photos and change the background of your pictures, or make an animation.

Further Materials, Resources & Information

Below you will find more resources and external websites related to this lesson.

Full STEAM Ahead – Space Exploration Education Grant

UK Space AgencyThis lesson has been produced as part of the Full STEAM Ahead Project with the UK Space Agency. We are one of eight organisations across the UK to be awarded to deliver and produce exciting new education outreach activities and projects. The UK Space Agency are delighted to be able to support these projects, which represent a diverse selection of cross-curricular activities that meet it’s education objectives in encouraging children to take up STEAM subjects, raise awareness of careers in space-related areas, and raise awareness of the UK’s exploration programme.


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