Turn Red Planet green with wind turbines to unlock new Mars missions: NASA

Wind energy is “a valuable energy resource for future human missions to Mars” that could open new areas of the Red Planet for exploration, according to a team of scientists that urged more research into how turbines can support life under Martian conditions.

Once written off as a source of power due to conditions on Mars’ surface – where low atmospheric density results in wind forces typically 1% those seen on Earth – new research led by Victoria Hartwick of the NASA Ames Research Centre in California claims technological advances such as tapping low wind speeds and operating in extreme environments now “favour a Martian application”.

Wind turbines on Mars could prove particularly valuable as a complement to nuclear and solar energy, offering greater safety levels than the former and potentially able to function when the latter is engulfed in dust storms, say the researchers in a new paper published in Nature Astronomy that uses what’s claimed as “a state-of-the-art Mars global climate model”.

“We find that wind speeds at some proposed landing sites are sufficiently fast to provide a stand-alone or complementary energy source to solar or nuclear power,” said the scientists, adding that “wind power represents a stable, sustained energy resource across large portions of the Mars surface” that could help open up 13 new ‘regions of interest’ on the planet for human exploration.

Part of their calculations were based on power curve figures from an Enercon 33 turbine operating at the Ross Island wind farm in Antarctica as “an analogue site for present day Mars”.

Wind power represents a stable, sustained energy resource.

“We encourage additional study aimed at advancing wind turbine technology to operate efficiently under Mars conditions and to extract more power from Mars winds,” said the researchers.

They flagged a host of technical challenges that would need to be overcome, ranging from lightweight designs for transport to Mars to the need to operate in ultra-challenging temperature and dust conditions.

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