Time Capsule to Mars: Student-Led Mission to Mars Completes Systems Architecture Study at MIT

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An audacious plan by eight universities for a student-led mission to Mars took a big step forward with the completion of a key technical review of systems requirements at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in January, with the team targeting a launch within the next few years, mission organizers say.

Time Capsule to Mars(TM) (TC2M) hopes to deliver to Mars, by 2019, a “time capsule of humanity” carrying digital content from millions of people from around the world for future human explorers to recover. University teams from across the U.S. are collaborating to design, build, and ultimately operate a CubeSat-based spacecraft that will deliver its payload to the Mars surface. Time Capsule to Mars is a project of Explore Mars Inc.

“The technical efforts of such a vibrant team – eight universities at this point – are moving this mission forward,” says Professor Paulo Lozano, TC2M adviser and director of MIT’s Space Propulsion Lab, where students are leading the technical development of the propulsion system. “We’re in that stage of any mission where there is a lot of planning and calculation, and to work through the whole spacecraft subsystem by subsystem is a tremendous effort that required everyone on the project to contribute. It’s a wonderful milestone.”

The multi-week effort at MIT, which took place during MIT’s “Independent Activities Period (IAP),” focused on developing the systems architecture and systems-level requirements that would allow for technical designs and construction to begin in earnest. The study, led by graduate students Dianna Velez and Iulia Jivanescu, successfully completed initial concepts for the architecture, its systems, and their interfaces. Jonathan Brent Parham, Associate Technical Staff at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, served as a consultant on the study.

“The past three weeks have set the direction for the rest of the mission,” said Emily Briere, mission director and senior at Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering. “By developing systems-level requirements and functional requirements for each subsystem, we’ve defined a clear path forward that our university teams can follow. The energy and enthusiasm for TC2M coming out of this study is overwhelming. This team is willing itself Marsward.”

The $25 million TC2M mission will be funded in large part by people around the world who upload personal digital media in the form of images, text, audio and video clips for a small fee. For those in the developing world, digital media uploads to the capsule will be offered free of charge and underwritten by corporate sponsors and individual philanthropists.

The team is being advised by a management team from Boeing’s executive Emerging Leaders Development Program. “The ability to transfer knowledge and to teach these students core systems engineering, mission management and technical project management skills is a huge win for me, for Boeing, and for the industry,” says Richard Barrow, senior project engineer at The Boeing Company and a member of the Boeing team.

Student participation in TC2M includes undergraduate and graduate students from Duke University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Florida Institute of Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of Colorado at Boulder, and University of Connecticut. Veteran aerospace project management mentors for TC2M Ron Schlagheck, formerly NASA, and Laurent Sibille of Enterprise Advisory Solutions, Inc. advised the student teams during the IAP study.

The students are being supported in their mission efforts by an extensive array of industry talent from such aerospace stalwarts as ATK, Aerojet Rocketdyne, The Boeing Company, Deep Space Industries, Draper Laboratory, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Lockheed Martin, MIT, NASA, Remarkable Technologies, and others. Charlie Precourt, vice president and general manager of ATK Space Launch Division and former NASA chief astronaut, and Kent Rominger, vice president, business development of ATK and former NASA chief astronaut, are special advisors to this project.

“Draper has always had a role in preparing the future leaders of American aerospace,” says Seamus Tuohy, director of space systems at Draper Laboratory, one of the key sponsors of the MIT IAP Study. “We had more than 30 students contributing to finalizing the mission specifications, and these students received an excellent introduction to the challenges of using small systems to explore another planet.”

TC2M’s vision and goals have already inspired similar mission concepts from NASA and others.

“This continues to be the mission for everyone, not just in the space industry but worldwide, too,” says Chris Carberry, executive director and co-founder of Explore Mars Inc., a nonprofit that was created to advance the goal of sending humans to Mars within the next two decades. “This is a mission for all humankind, and we are excited to have so many people involved, with more joining each week.”

To date, more than $1 million in donations and in-kind support has been raised for the mission. To upload images and become part of this historic mission to Mars, visit http://www.timecapsuletomars.com/#upload. Visithttp://www.timecapsuletomars.com for mission milestones or to learn how to can get involved.

About Time Capsule to Mars(TM)
The world’s first student-led interplanetary mission, Time Capsule to Mars (TC2M), will design, launch and land intact a time capsule on Mars containing digital messages representing a snapshot of humanity on Earth. The mission will inspire today’s generation to commit to sending humans to Mars who will recover the capsule. TC2M intends to be the largest-ever crowd-funded endeavor, aiming to raise $25 million. TC2M is a project of the non-profit Explore Mars Inc. (http://www.exploremars.org). Read more about our mission, follow us @TimeCapsuleMars or #TC2M, and on Google+.

About Explore Mars Inc.
Explore Mars was created to advance the goal of sending humans to Mars within the next two decades. To further that goal, Explore Mars conducts programs and technical challenges to stimulate the development and/or improvement of technologies that will make human Mars missions more efficient and feasible. In addition, to embed the idea of Mars as a habitable planet, Explore Mars challenges educators to use Mars in the classroom as a tool to teach standard STEM curricula. Explore Mars Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation organized in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

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