VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. — Students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University are trying to figure out how to get to Mars for not half the cost, or even a quarter, but for less than one-fifth the cost.
But it’s not about cutting corners — it’s about finding new ways to do old things for less money. And if it works, Mars is just the beginning.
The team is trying to develop satellites that will go to Mars for 16% of the cost of the ones NASA usually deploys.
“We have an idea of what we’re doing, but we’re building this instrument from scratch,” Embry Riddle Ph.D. candidate Henry Valentine said. “There is going to be mistakes in our design, things we have to do with and things we have to figure out later on.”
Dr. Aroh Barjatya is leading the project. He said cheap student labor isn’t enough.
“You still have to do all the same calibrations and testing, so the science is the same quality,” Barjatya said.
To make a multi-million-dollar satellite for a fifth of the cost, you need to save in other areas.
That means using different parts, something easier said than done because of radiation.
Students are using commercially available products and testing them to make sure they can handle the radiation that the satellites will encounter on their mission to Mars.
The low cost also provides another advantage: by producing satellites at a fifth of the cost, you can send five times as many. If one has a problem, there are still four more.