New concept may enhance Earth-Mars communication

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Washington, October 17 (ANI): An ESA (European Space Agency) engineer, working with engineers in the UK, may have found a new concept that may enhance Earth-Mars communication.

The European researchers studied a possible solution to a crucial problem affecting future human missions to Mars: how to ensure reliable radio communication even when Mars and Earth line up at opposite sides of the Sun, which then blocks any signal between mission controllers on Earth and astronauts on the red surface.

The natural alignment, known as a conjunction, happens approximately every 780 days, and would seriously degrade and even block transmission of voice, data and video signals.

This new solution is one result of a 100,000 euros study funded by ESA's General Studies Programme to catalogue non-traditional orbital zones throughout the solar system that could be exploited thanks to emerging propulsion technologies.

According to the paper, "Non-Keplerian Orbits Using Low Thrust, High ISP Propulsion Systems," an innovative solution to the Mars communication problem may be found by placing a pair of communication relay satellites into a very special type of orbit near Mars: a so-called 'B-orbit'.

However, to counter the effects of gravity and remain in place, they would have to be equipped with cutting-edge electric ion propulsion.

The ion thrusters, powered by solar electricity and using tiny amounts of xenon gas as propellant, would hold the satellites in a B-orbit in full view of both Mars and Earth.

The satellites could then relay radio signals throughout the Mars-Earth conjunction season, ensuring that astronauts at Mars were never out of touch with Earth. (ANI)

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