On April 28, the University of British Columbia team was named the winner of SSPI and SEDS Canada’s 2018 student team competition. The competition, titled “Satellites Around Mars – What Will It Take?” challenged students to create a satellite communications capability to support exploration, colonization and early development of Mars, including both surface-to-space communications and Mars-to-Earth communications.

Advising the University of British Columbia team were Tom Butash, Engineering Fellow at BAE Systems, Prof. David Michelson of UBC Electrical & Computer Engineering and Prof. Jayme Mathews of UBC Physics and Astronomy. We thank them for generously donating time and expertise to the next generation.

In a report titled “Advanced Communication Architecture Supporting Martian Habitation,” the University of British Columbia team designed a communications system to support a Martian outpost. Their design provides approximately 50% coverage of the Martian surface to support robotic exploration with four smallsats and four larger relay satellites using an O3b-like orbit. The smallsats placed in LMO (Lower Mars Orbit) would communicate directly with Earth via two relay satellites placed in orbit around the L1 Sun-Mars Lagrange point, thereby avoiding communications blackouts during the six-week solar conjunction that occurs every two years on Mars.

Figure: LOS Earth-Mars connection through relay satellite at Sun-Mars L1 point

The University of British Columbia team went further with their plan to fully support manned exploration of Mars with a dual satellite architecture using relay satellites at Sun-Mars L1 and L2 points using large amplitude Lissajous orbits to minimize costs and risks. This new architecture would replace the smallsats deployed for robotic exploration, allowing for direct communication from Martian outposts to relay satellites and then to Earth. Over three phases of development, the project would require eight smallsats at LMO, two relay satellites at Sun-Mars L1 point, two relay satellites at Sun-Mars L2, and another two relay satellites at Sun-Venus L1. You can see the estimated timeline for the project in the graphic below:

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You can read the University of British Columbia team’s full report here. See a full description of the Satellites Around Mars – What Will It Take? competition, conducted in partnership with SEDS Canada, the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.