Would humans be able to use wind energy to power their missions and settlements if they ever reach the Red Planet?
The consensus up until this point was No. Turbines couldn’t be turned by the thin Martian air. A recent study indicated that this might not be the case, though, and it was published in Nature Astronomy on Monday.
We analyze the total planetary Martian wind potential and determine its geographical and temporal variations using a cutting-edge Mars global climate model, the study’s authors noted in their abstract. We discover that wind speeds at some potential landing places are swift enough to act as a standalone energy source or as a supplement to solar or nuclear power.
Any lengthy, manned expedition to Mars will require electricity, but the majority of available sources come with their own set of issues. NASA employs either solar electricity or nuclear power for its ongoing robotic missions, however, solar power may not be reliable enough given Mars’ seasonal and daily cycles and nuclear power may be unsafe close to human settlements.
According to Space.com, the wind was previously ruled out as a possibility since Mars’ atmosphere only has around 1% of the density of Earth’s, meaning that its winds are only about 1% as strong.
According to NASA Ames Research Center scientist Victoria Hartwick, “the major challenge for wind energy on Mars is that even fast winds don’t carry much force.”
Despite these difficulties, Hartwick and her team from NASA, the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the University of Washington modified an Earth-specific climate model to recreate Martian conditions, according to Phys.org.
They were able to reproduce the Martian environment across multiple years, including wind speed, by taking into account elements including terrain, dust, solar radiation, and thermal energy.
They learned through this that the wind did indeed blow hard enough to produce electricity in several Martian places, either in conjunction with solar power or independently.
According to Hartwick, “We were able to identify 13 broad zones with stable wind resources.”
According to Phys.org, the wind usually performs best around craters or in volcanic highlands. The results of the study can potentially assist NASA in planning the landing sites for upcoming missions. 50 potential mission sites were examined, according to Space.com. 50 of these:
- At least 40 of them could generate some wind power.
- Three sites could generate enough to support six people for more than 35 percent of the year.
- Seven sites could generate enough to provide more than 50 percent of power during dust storms or in the winter when solar is less reliable.
The most significant contribution that wind may make to upcoming Mars missions may not be to replace solar power but to complement it. Currently, solar panels could produce enough electricity to meet a mission’s needs around 40% of the time, according to the study’s authors. By including wind, that percentage can increase to between 60 and 90 percent.
According to Hartwick, if wind turbines can be used, “some highly scientifically fascinating places that would have previously been ignored owing to energy limits might be available to human missions.”