Wind farms on Mars can power future crewed missions, say NASA scientists

At three Martian sites, the power generated by wind speeds could support a six-crew team.
Deena Theresa
This artists concept illustrates a Martian dust storm, which might also crackle with electricity.
This artists concept illustrates a Martian dust storm, which might also crackle with electricity.

NASA 

A study published in Nature Astronomy suggests that Mars has enough to generate power for future crewed missions, Space.com reported.

With the help of a state-of-the-art Mars global climate model, scientists at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, analyzed the total planetary Martian wind potential and found that wind speeds at certain proposed landing sites are fast enough to provide a "stand-alone" or "complementary" energy source to solar or nuclear power.

"It’s really exciting that by combining potential wind power with other sources of energy, we open up large parts of the planet to explore and to these really scientifically interesting zones that the [scientific] community may have previously discredited because of energy requirements," said Victoria Hartwick, a research scientist at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.

Wind power can easily complement solar arrays on Mars

Researchers had previously disregarded wind energy as a potential source of energy for future missions as the atmosphere on Mars is rather thin compared to the Earth. 

"The biggest challenge for wind energy on Mars is that even fast winds don't carry much force," Hartwick told Space.com.

But, despite its low atmospheric density, as per simulations of wind turbine power output demonstrations across fractions of the Mars surface, wind power is unusually significant. This could easily act as a complement to solar arrays and provide power at night and during large-scale dust storms.

Of late, the creation of new wind turbines that can operate in remote and extreme locations, and extract power from slow winds, could prove to be useful on Mars.

13 regions were found with stable wind resources

Hartwick and colleagues used information about Mars including intricate details about its landscape, heat energy, dust levels, and solar radiation in different levels on the global climate model that was originally designed for Earth. This very model was used to stimulate various wind speeds across the planet across different times of the day and night, seasons, and even years.

Most Popular

They calculated the amount of power of four different wind turbines — 300-kilowatt Enercon E3, which possesses a 100-foot-diameter (33-meter) rotor, and the five-kilowatt Aeolos V, which has a 15-foot-diameter (4.5-meter) rotor — that might generate on Mars. 

Martian power was maximized at night, which meant that it could easily compensate for solar power. Wind power was noted to be strong during dust storms and in the winter seasons. "We were able to identify 13 broad regions with stable wind resources," Hartwick told Space.com.

Incredibly surprising findings that require further research

Out of 50 proposed Martian landing sites, it was found that wind speeds at 40 of them could supply some power. Space.com reported that at three sites, the wind speeds could generate 24 kilowatts for more than 35 percent of the year, supporting a six-crew team.

At the other seven sites, wind energy could supply more than 50 percent of the total power required during winter or dust storms. Additionally, if wind power is used only for scientific instruments, it could be employed for 30 sites.

Future research is required to investigate the kind of wind turbines that can operate seamlessly under Martian conditions.

Study Abstract:

Energy sustainability and redundancy for surface habitats, life support systems and scientific instrumentation represent one of the highest-priority issues for future crewed missions to Mars. However, power sources utilized for the current class of robotic missions to Mars may be potentially dangerous near human surface habitats (for example, nuclear) or lack stability on diurnal or seasonal timescales (for example, solar) that cannot be easily compensated for by power storage. Here, we evaluate the power potential for wind turbines as an alternative energy resource on the Mars surface. Using a state-of-the-art Mars global climate model, we analyse the total planetary Martian wind potential and calculate its spatial and temporal variability. 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. While several regions show promising wind energy resource potential, other regions of scientific interest can be discarded based on the natural solar and wind energy potential alone. We demonstrate that wind energy compensates for diurnal and seasonal reductions in solar power particularly in regions of scientific merit in the midlatitudes and during regional dust storms. Critically, proposed turbines stabilize power production when combined with solar arrays, increasing the percent time that power exceeds estimated mission requirements from ~40% for solar arrays alone to greater than 60–90% across a broad fraction of the Mars surface. We encourage additional study aimed at advancing wind turbine technology to operate efficiently under Mars conditions and to extract more power from Mars winds.