Engineers have found a way to communicate continuously with Mars in a research project to help manned space missions.
Continuous communication with Mars had not previously been possible for several weeks at a time as the sun obscures the Earth’s view of the planet, but researchers at the University of Strathclyde have found a way to allow continuous communication with just one spacecraft.
The breakthrough centres on Lagrange points, five areas in space where an object such as a satellite or observatory can stay fixed in the same location relative to the Earth and the sun.
Dr Malcolm Macdonald, a member of the research team, said: “One of the key barriers to manned exploration of Mars is communication. When the sun obscures the Earth’s view of Mars, it also prevents any possibility of ground controllers making contact with astronauts.
“But by moving a spacecraft with a continuous thrusting propulsion system into Lagrange point one, we’ve calculated that it’s possible to enable continuous communication from the Earth to the spacecraft, and from the spacecraft to the surface of Mars.
“We’ve also shown that, by using a similar technique, but with two spacecraft, we can further improve communications.
“Hovering directly above Mars limits communications to just one polar region. But by using two spacecraft, we can enable communication to a much wider area of the planet.”
The finding is being released this week at the 60th International Astronautical Congress, the world’s biggest space conference, being held in Daejeon, South Korea.
The research was funded by the European Space Agency, in a bid to establish how technology can be used to radically enhance space science, from improving telecommunications to monitoring the Arctic