Mars Gravity Biosatellite
The Mars Gravity Biosatellite was a project initiated as a competition between universities in 2001 by the Mars Society. Among the participating universities were The University of Washington, and MIT, as well as others. Presentations were given to Bob Zubrin (Mars Society), and the award for best design was given to The University of Washington (UW). The UW team continued to develop the concept until the end of the school year (June 2002), after which funding became an issue. The team from UW contacted members of the team that presented from MIT, and the two universities agreed to continue development together. Later University of Queensland - Australia (UQ) joined the team as well.
The intent of the project was to build a spacecraft to study the effects of Mars-level gravity (~0.38g) on mammals. On 24 June 2009, a status report was released declaring the end of this program, due to lack of funding and shifting priorities at NASA. On 9 November 2009, Frank Stratford posted a brief message on the MarsDrive website stating that MarsDrive had taken ownership of the project and was seeking support. However, as of July 2010, there has been no further word on any continuing project activity, with the last activity being an article in March 2010 that requested funding and other assistance.
Program history and overview
The Mars Gravity Biosatellite program began in 2001 as a Mars Society initiative called Translife that grew out of a discussion between Robert Zubrin and Elon Musk. It was intended to study the effects of Mars-level gravity (about one-third that of Earth) on mammals, for which no data was available. Over the next few years, the program grew tremendously in both scope and vision, with staff and students from MIT (Payload), UW (Spacecraft Bus) and UQ (Reentry) collaboratively designing various parts of the mission. With ongoing funding challenges, UW and UQ withdrew after several years and Georgia Institute of Technology stepped in to build on their design work. The effort represented the most ambitious and complex student satellite project to date.
The mission was planned to carry 15 mice in low Earth orbit for five weeks. The satellite was designed to spin at approximately 32 rpm to generate centrifugal force simulating gravity that astronauts would experience on the surface of Mars. At the end of its mission, the satellite would reenter Earth's atmosphere and its cargo of mice would be retrieved. In 2007, a tentative launch date for the Mars Gravity Biosatellite had been set for 2010 or 2011, as the primary payload on a Falcon IE or a Minotaur IV launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. As of March 2010, MarsDrive projects a launch date between 2014 and 2016.
In 2006, the students of Mars Gravity developed a novel microfinancing platform called Your Name Into Space. This was meant to help finance the development of their spacecraft. This initiative is designed to give individuals and corporations the opportunity to fly images of their choice into orbit.
By the program's end in 2009, the project had engaged over 600 undergraduate, graduate, and high school students in aerospace engineering, space life sciences, and program management. Over 20 conference presentations and papers were published, earning multiple student awards.
In November 2009, MarsDrive took ownership of this project, and they are now asking for support in the form of funding and research and design assistance. The project will have the same focus as before its acquisition, it will study the effects of Martian gravity on mammals.
Gravity on Mars is only about 38% as strong as it is on Earth, and the long-term effects of such reduced gravity are unknown. Astronauts who are weightless for long periods of time lose significant amounts of bone and muscle mass. It is unclear if the gravity on Mars is strong enough to avoid or minimize these health problems. The Mars Gravity Biosatellite was meant to provide data on how mammalian health is affected by long-term exposure to lower levels of gravity, focusing on bone loss, changes in bone structure, muscle atrophy, and changes in the inner ear. The results from the experiment would be compared against a variety of earth based controls, including vivarium, hindlimb suspension, partial weight suspension, flight habitat effects, and short-radius centrifuge testing.
- Mars Gravity Biosatellite program. The Mars Gravity Biosatellite Program Is Closing Down. June 24, 2009.
- Stratford, Frank (2009-11-09). "Project and fund raising for Gravity Biosatellite". Retrieved 2010-08-03. "Since MarsDrive has taken ownership of the Gravity Biosatellite project we are looking for support for many aspects of the project."
- Gigantino, Josh (2010-03-08). "The Mars BioSat Project". Retrieved 2010-08-03.
- Korzun, Ashley M.; Wagner, Erika B.; et al. (2007). Mars Gravity Biosatellite: Engineering, Science, and Education. 58th International Astronautical Congress.
- Your Name Into Space
- Mars Gravity Biosatellite program. The Mars Gravity Biosatellite Program Is Closing Down. June 24, 2009. 
- MarsDrive news post about acquisition. MarsDrive takes on Gravity Biosatellite project. November 11, 2009. 
- Mars group launches high-flying fundraiser Space ship logos go ka-ching!, Sasha Brown, News Office, November 3, 2006, MIT News Release