Automation technologies to sustain humans on the Red Planet

Posted on 9 Mar 2022 by The Manufacturer

NASA’s Perseverance rover has just announced its first sampling collection in one year after landing. Advancements like this make the idea of sending humans to Mars by 2030 seem highly achievable, but it’s with the help from major breakthroughs in technology that these are possible.

Here, Neil Ballinger, Head of EMEA at EU Automation, discusses how automation technologies help revolutionise the idea of humans on Mars.

Mars has always been one of the top priorities for astronauts to research and to envision a potential human transition to this planet. Due to its similarities with Earth in size, inclination, structure, composition and even the presence of water, human life could be sustained on the Red Planet, using technology and smart tools.  But what are the challenges to solve before this becomes a reality? And how can automation help?

Improved exploring missions

Like in manufacturing, the machines used in NASA’s explorations need to be small, versatile and smart. The new Perseverance rover inherits some of its design from the Curiosity rover, but has added developments for improved entry, landing and descend operations. For example, the new rover uses a tool called MOXIE, located inside the body of the machine, which uses a testing technology that converts carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere into oxygen. Most innovatively, the rover is also supported by the Ingenuity Helicopter, a small and autonomous rotorcraft which will test powered flight on Mars for the first time.

Apart from these innovative technologies, the rover is also equipped with improved sensor capabilities, new descend cameras and microphones for a better documentation of the territory. This will not only allow the machine to reach more scientifically important locations, but it will also reduce the two-year travel time between the Earth and Mars to just one.

These developments in exploring machines will help pave the way for future robotic and human missions on Mars, but they will also collect invaluable information for a potential human existence on the planet.

Will there ever be human life on Mars - Eu Automation image


Food systems

Once all crucial information reaches the Earth, preparations can start for a food system on Mars. If humans are ever to reach Mars, they will need to generate a stable supply of food, as resupplying resources from the Earth would be highly impractical and expensive. Mars is covered in regolith, an arid material which is toxic to humans. On top of that, water exists only in ice form and due to the low atmospheric pressure, plants would be unable to grow.

One solution is implementing an automated facility called a biofoundry that can test millions of DNA designs to find microbes that can be redesigned to sustain human diet. This requires an ingenious combination of biology and engineering with automation and computational fields. Such an advanced facility would fast-track ways to sustain crops on Mars and improve photosynthesis and photoprotection for plants to thrive.

While this solution will be crucial for the success of human life on Mars, it will also aid the development of food on Earth to tackle the agricultural consequences of climate change.

New technological developments bring the idea of Mars colonisation closer to reality. For humans to reach the Red Planet in less than a decade, extensive preparations need to be made. From improving exploring capabilities with state-of-the art tools to designing smart facilities to create food, automation is essential for their success.

While EU Automation is currently unable to deliver automation parts to Mars, we ship worldwide in the shortest time. This helps manufacturers and engineers all over the world to complete their projects and find innovative solutions for Martian life.