First private mission to Mars selects SSTL for satellites

British engineers are to help plan the first private mission to Mars by developing a satellite system to communicate with a robotic lander.

Dutch organisation Mars One, which plans to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars, has selected Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) to carry out a concept study on an interplanetary communications system for an initial unmanned exploration mission in 2018 and future manned missions.

Lockheed Martin is to design the lander based on its spacecraft built for NASA’s 2008 “Phoenix” mission to Mars. The new craft will have similar capabilities in terms of collecting soil and ice samples but also generate publicity for Mars One’s future manned missions with a live video feed.

SSTL executive chairman Sir Martin Sweeting said in a statement: ‘SSTL believes that the commercialisation of space exploration is vital in order to bring down costs and schedules and fuel progress.

‘This study gives us an unprecedented opportunity to take our tried and tested approach and apply it to Mars One’s imaginative and exhilarating challenge of sending humans to Mars through private investment.’

The demonstration satellite will provide a high bandwidth communications system in a Mars synchronous orbit and will be used to relay data and a live video feed from the lander on the surface of Mars back to Earth.  

As part of the study, SSTL will analyse the mission requirements and concept design for the satellites that would enable communications between Earth and a future Mars settlement.

The study will consider the technical specifications required for the communications satellites, the orbit, and the launch, transfer and injection scenarios that would put them into operation.

Mars One is a non-profit organisation that plans to land the first human settlers on Mars by 2025 after establishing an automated outpost on the planet. Over 200,000 people have already applied to become settlers since April this year.