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NASA Mars Explorations Future Energy Applications

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Kimberly McKenzie-Klemm's picture
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  • Apr 24, 2021

This item is part of the Innovation in the Power Industry - April 2021 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

In the NASA Science Mars 2020 Mission the Perseverance Rover came equipped with multiple cameras including Parachute Up and Descent Stage Vision Systems; HAZmat land surveying equipment; and far ranging pictorial terrain survey photo collectors. Looking at the ground of planet Mars first hand rather than using solely orbiting satellites has turned into a science community project involving public and private interest. Small downscaled Mars exploration rovers are even up for commercial purchase in the general interested popular marketplace. With the strides in technologies and applications made by the NASA 2020 Mars Perseverance Rover Mission the energy sector at home on Earth has more than an operational interest to pursue in finding ways to use these developments for continued improvements, efficiencies, and systems integrations.

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Atmosphere adaptation included, strides forward into ground-breaking scientific developments specifically for the NASA Mars Perseverance Rover 2020 Mission include sensor conductivity operations; thermal shield variations for on-planet versus off-planet or orbiting field protective requirements; nuclear based fuel conversions from heat to electricity and returns to fuel renewals given in solar power regeneration; and mechanical equipment engineering environment sustainable functions of the NASA Mars Perseverance Rover created to complete Mars planet surface sampling. Each of the NASA Mars Perseverance Rover’s scientific development decisions has already started to directly encourage the energy community sectors to use and develop the future thinking in cross-industry applications (such as the possibility of geothermal energy generation found in some of the Mars Perseverance Rover’s returned data as a potential inclusion as an electricity source).  

Although the NASA Mars Perseverance Rover has achieved a planetary landing on Mars and is endeavoring data collections and monitored functional “checks” from the scientific community coming together at NASA, the renewable and clean energy communities involved in moving the NASA technology forward have to remember, (due to atmosphere, composite planet materials and planet surface chemical structures) some technologies will not adapt functions and usage the same on Earth as they do on Mars, although there is reason to believe that the updated sensor functions are at least compatible with new satellite direct information relay improvements. 

Newly condensed, durable, and fast processing modified sensor additions were added to the NASA Mars Perseverance Rover 2020 project instrumentation. Sensor conductivity operations of the NASA Mars Perseverance Rover center around weather data and have been created to withstand, (among other difficult environments), humidity, dust storms, and atmospheric pressure as the sensors record the weather data without interference or communication circuitry glitches and built to continue to function without regard to the Mars planetary presence or absence of sunlight. Usually, the best applications of weather and atmosphere sensors in renewable energy sources centers around solar and wind dynamic system uses.  The 2020 Mars Perseverance Rover Mission sensors’ developments will assist in moving forward the Earth’s solar and wind power energy sector “real-time measurement and solar forecasting for plant and grid operations,” creating a more efficient and reliable electricity energy source function, (“Best Practices Handbook for the Collection and Use of Solar Resource Data  for Solar Energy Applications: Second Edition”; NREL, December 2017).

The European-Russian Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) on the NASA Mars Curiosity Rover (a second Rover also part of the project for the exploration of the planet Mars) has detected high spikes of biogas on the planet surface of Mars. “The spacecraft launched in 2016 to solve the mystery of methane on Mars”, (“Mars rover detects ‘excitingly huge’ methane spike”, nature, June 25, 2019).  Biogas detection is a precursor to Methane fuel conversion “clean” energy. There is already some talk in the biogas energy sector of finding a way to harvest part of the geothermal output from the surface of Mars for further use by a Mars Rover while on mission status. This could contribute to usable planetside operations’ equipment requirements of continual feeds to accomplish mechanical tasks separate from the Mars’ Rovers such as the Mars terrain exploring Helicopter. Also, energy community forward thinkers are also wondering if payloads can be carried home (back to Earth) or used for the purpose of energy generation for satellites, other planetary mission equipment, and analysis breakdowns of the comparison planetary composites of the biogas potential differences.

The Mars atmosphere and surface climates differ in temperature, elements’ influence consistency, and storm patterns. “Mars is cold and dry, with a thin atmosphere that exposes the surface to harmful levels of cosmic radiation”, (“NASA Mars rover: Key questions about Perseverance” bbc News, February 19). Thermal shield variations are used both in the entry through the atmosphere of Mars and on the Mars planet surface to withstand the Mars weather influences, heat of descent from off-planet to on-planet status phase of the 2020 Mission, and surface radiation . The NASA Mars Perseverance Rover included heat shields and “the ablator, a unique blend of cork wood, binder and many tiny silica glass spheres”, (Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, The ablator and thermal heat shields formed an aeroshell pod to carry the Mars Perseverance Rover within range of Mars and to protect the Rover equipment cargo. Top technologies were implemented in forming the Mars Perseverance Rover’s protective shields, but the technologies were generally already available in the nuclear energy fission/fusion reactor metals and simply had to be combined creatively.

There has been some speculation about reusing the thermal shields for satellite and space station uses. The idea of scientifically up to date reusable thermal insulators as compatible with energy cell collectors has potential for solar and geothermal energy systems recyclable supports when combined with already installed and functioning renewable energy resource composites. As part of the aeroshell carrying the NASA Mars Perseverance Rover before ejection to the Mars planetary surface, the thermal shields used required protective barriers to contain potential equipment damages possible during Mars planetary atmosphere entry. The thermal shields not dropped during the NASA Mars Perseverance Rover’s descent to the surface of the planet Mars were shields created thinner and more resilient to eliminate and protect against radiation effects on equipment performing the tasks of data collection and exploration. These smaller shields are installed as part of the functioning features per system use of the NASA Mars Perseverance Rover.  The inclusion of radiation shields in the NASA Mars Perseverance Rover systems can be examined for inspiration in the renewable energy source communities. Adaptable uses of thermal and radiation shields possibly fit solar, wind, geothermal, hydraulic and other clean energy production for expanding the longevity of individual and commercial energy electricity conversion. The best decisions for the energy communities' cross-technology systems to benefit from the thermal and radiation shield applications are current technology uses in solar and wind renewable energy sources.  Energy impulse waves that escape the connections to the generators in wind renewable energy could benefit in thermal shields to insulate and conduct a higher percentage of the currents for higher efficiency. Solar power shields already use insulators to keep the solar energy concentrated in the cells from overloads. 

To sustain the NASA 2020 Mars Perseverance Rover Mission’s long travel path, renewable fuel was considered necessary and a guarantee of probable Mars planetary landing success if the NASA efforts could harness electricity to energy fuel needs. Scientists involved with the 2020 Mission derived conversions from heat to returns to fuel renewals using nuclear energy developments. A turbine battery, (similar to a nuclear energy plant core) operating on solar electricity recharging while spinning renewable energy from the heat created during functional use of the NASA 2020 Mars Perseverance Rovers Mission’s boosters, directional thrusters, and equilibrium stabilizers. This novel approach of combining solar power and nuclear power engineering to create clean, renewable energy holds some interesting potential for the hybrid energy systems’ communities in the renewable energy sectors working on Earth. 

A spacecraft is only as strong as its power source, which is why when NASA was designing its Perseverance Mars Rover, the agency turned to radioactive plutonium,” (“Why NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover Uses Nuclear Energy”, Scientific American, Bartels, M., July 29, 2020). There is not enough sunlight on the journey to sustain an entire flight of a craft to the planet Mars. Hybrid solar energy hubs consisting of solar capture and storage cells (as used on Earth) proved the nuclear energy adaptations could harness the nuclear energy radioactive elements in smaller amounts with the right turbine decisions for consistent and more cost effective cross-technology developments. The radioactive plutonium used for the Perseverance Mars Rover’s renewable fuel system was below weapons grade plutonium and engaged fuel need functions without a radioactive emissions interruption of the Perseverance Mars Rover’s equipment. This argues well for independent regulated solar/nuclear integrated energy power operations in both electricity companies and energy industries looking forward to employing the next generation of affordable and alternate end user energy market potentials.

Once the Mars Perseverance Rover landed on the surface of Mars, the real-time monitoring and direct remote operations control for Mars planetary planned exploration experiments began at NASA. Conducting tasks such as soil or surface sampling and weather atmosphere reporting required mechanical instruments and software relays capable of withstanding adverse Mars planetary elements while continuing sustainable functions. Problems resulting in difficulties carrying out the NASA 2020 Mars Perseverance Rover Mission can be categorized in three or four types of challenges: physical hazards, biological hazards, chemical hazards, and gravitational and atmospheric hazards. (“Safe on Mars: Precursor Measurements Necessary to Support Human Operations on the Martian Surface (2020)”, The National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine: The National Academies Press).

The Mars Perseverance Rover software developments were created to withstand the Mars planetary hazards without communication interruptions and the software was internally embedded to direct the Mars Perseverance Rover’s working machinery (such as the automated ARM and camera recorders).  The software anti-adverse condition operations technology used on the Mars Perseverance Rover to interact with the surveyance and sampling environment on Mars and connect with Mission 2020 personnel back on Earth holds out the promise of updates for automated energy SMART systems as implemented in difficult and challenging Earth environments where reliable energy use is still not easy to establish. Software energy system solutions instead of hardware reinventions can add to the benefit of individual renewable energy generators by coordinating consumer use with control and regulation of the energy grid.

Future applications to the energy community’s agenda rising from the NASA 2020 Mars Perseverance Rover Mission include updated equipment technologies such as climate adjusted operational sensors, thermal and radiation protection shields and insulation, renewable fuel systems, and software creations for defeating environmental challenges through applications made for mechanical sustainable functions. Contributions to energy community implementations have risen from collective renewable energy efforts and efficiency scale work with system protections used for the NASA Mars Perseverance Rover Mission.

All of the returns on the success of the NASA 2020 Mars Perseverance Rover Mission with possibilities for renewable or “clean” energy new adaptations and decisions apply to the alternate energy arenas: wind, solar, geothermal, natural gas, hydroelectric, and nuclear power electricity generation. While it might not seem to the renewable energy sectors like a chance for advancement, when the NASA 2020 Mars Perseverance Rover Mission is examined for cross-industry contributions the energy community’s potential for expanded applications is directly influenced by the work and efforts realized in a future that has arrived instead of nebulous ideas without pause.


  1. “Best Practices Handbook for the Collection and Use of Solar Resource Data  for Solar Energy Applications: Second Edition”; NREL, December 2017.
  2. “Mars rover detects ‘excitingly huge’ methane spike”, nature, June 25, 2019.
  3. “NASA Mars rover: Key questions about Perseverance” bbc News, February 19.
  4. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology,
  5. “Why NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover Uses Nuclear Energy”, Scientific American, Bartels, M., July 29, 2020.
  6. “Safe on Mars: Precursor Measurements Necessary to Support Human Operations on the Martian Surface (2002)”, The National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine: The National Academies Press.
Kimberly McKenzie-Klemm's picture
Thank Kimberly for the Post!
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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Apr 26, 2021

The 2020 Mars Perseverance Rover Mission sensors’ developments will assist in moving forward the Earth’s solar and wind power energy sector “real-time measurement and solar forecasting for plant and grid operations,” creating a more efficient and reliable electricity energy source function

So fascinating to think about how we may have to go all the way to Mars to really learn how to optimize our systems at home on Earth! And the future scientists this is all inspiring is such a win, as well!

Kimberly McKenzie-Klemm's picture
Kimberly McKenzie-Klemm on Apr 26, 2021

Thank you Matt! Innovation in technologies requires conservation specialists, scientists, and field workers to all think outside of the box bringing solutions and new insights and leaving legacies for the      future generations of energy industry professionals.

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