In the not-too-distant future – some believe as early as 2030 – a manned spacecraft will blast off from Earth. The spacecraft will be designed to travel to deep space, traveling further than any other. Its destination: the red planet, after a demanding 200-million-mile journey lasting nearly six months.
But just what will Mars be like? It will be impossible to answer that question until humans actually get there. Mars is an extreme planet; the average atmospheric temperature is 210K, while on Earth it’s 288K. That may not seem like a big difference, but converted to the Fahrenheit scale, that’s 59oF on Earth and -81o F on Mars.
Mars also does not have an ozone layer like Earth, and this will present a formidable challenge. No ozone layer means that astronauts will be exposed to deadly radiation from space if they are not protected. Plus, air on Mars is mostly carbon dioxide – the very compound that our bodies find toxic and work hard to eliminate each and every day. In practical terms, the rupture of personal protective equipment like a spacesuit would spell disaster for the wearer in approximately 15 seconds.
Mars also has crazy weather patterns (dust storms are common), extreme temperature differences between day and night, arid conditions, rocky terrain, deep canyons, tall volcanoes, and no apparent surface life-forms.
So how will the astronauts survive? First, transporting them safely there and back will be paramount. As depicted in the motion picture “The Martian,” the astronauts will likely set up habitats, or “habs” for short – protected ecological or environmental areas where they can live and work safely. In order to colonize Mars, they will need to grow their food, build medical clinics, construct data and communication centers, make oxygen and water, and build factories for spare parts; after all, the next delivery from Earth may be 200 Mars days away (more than 300 earth days). They will need to innovate.
But what will power this innovation? A continuous source of energy. Although sunlight on Mars is not the same as sunlight on Earth (actually, the solar irradiance on Mars is about half as much as that on Earth), high-efficiency solar panels could provide this source of energy. But solar energy alone may not be sufficient to run large habitats 24/7/669, the length of a Martian year.
Fortunately, the crazy weather on Mars is ideal for harvesting lots of energy. Wind is a significant weather pattern on Mars and can provide an abundant supply of energy. The extreme temperature gradients can also be a plentiful source of power for thermoelectric harvesting.
TI has breakthrough technology that allows today’s real-world systems to extract and manage power from a variety of sources: solar, thermoelectric, electromagnetic and vibration. From solar (ambient light)-powered sensors for monitoring factories or agricultural farms wirelessly, to body heat-powered sensors for medical and fitness-tracking sensors, you can use TI energy-harvesting solutions to create complete sensing ecosystems that are either self-powered or designed to supplement battery power. Figure 1 shows a simplified block diagram of an energy-harvesting sensor.
Figure 1: Simplified block diagram of an energy-harvesting sensor
The TI Design Energy Harvesting Ambient Light and Environment Sensor Node for Sub-1GHz Networks Reference Design is an ambient light-powered environment sensor node that you can use to create a system that monitors ambient light to precisely control a building’s lighting system, for example. It can also be used to collect remote temperature and humidity measurements in inaccessible areas of a building.
TI Designs reference design, the Energy Harvester BoosterPack (Figure 2) is especially suitable for creating an energy harvesting-based automated farm-irrigation management system – just like what “The Martian’s fictional astronaut and biologist Mark Watney could have used to conserve water for his potato farm. TI will have an example of such a system on display in its booth (#N115-N118) at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show.
Figure 2: Energy Harvester BoosterPack Reference Design board (TIDA-00588)
Few will argue that interplanetary expeditions are simple. No one knows what failure rates will be experienced. The hope is that the exploration of Mars will meet unbelievable success. But in the meanwhile, technology has emerged on earth that has made energy harvesting a reality. Today’s connected buildings. factories, cities, farms, and many other industries can benefit from this advancement in extracting free energy from the ambient.
- Check out these other TI Designs reference designs and start designing with energy harvesting today:
Surviving on Mars take brains, resources and technology, much like the technology that was discussed in today’s blog. Mark Watney masters the art of survival on Mars in The Martian. Take a firsthand look at his skills in the movie The Martian on digital HD today and Blu-rayTM and DVD Jan. 12: http://www.foxdigitalhd.com/the-martian