Project Hyreus Mars Sample Return (MSR)

Grey Havoc

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Oct 9, 2009
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Beyond Apollo: The God of Gainful Employment: Project Hyreus (1993)

In Greek mythology, Hyreus (pronounced “HY-ree-us”) is Orion’s father. Students in the University of Washington (UW) Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics had a different take on this obscure figure, however. The end of the Cold War and efforts to rein in a galloping U.S. Federal deficit yielded a decline in aerospace spending in the late 1980s/early 1990s. This led to “downsizing” and corporate mergers in aerospace industry. New hires slumped, confronting aerospace engineering students with an uncertain future. According to the 28 UW students who contributed to the 1993 Project Hyreus report, Hyreus (pronounced “HIRE-us”) was a mortal who succeeded in living off the land in the barren underworld, and for that achievement was made the God of Gainful Employment.

The students performed the Project Hyreus Mars Sample Return (MSR) study in UW’s Space Systems Design course as part of the NASA/Universities Space Research Association (USRA) Advanced Design Program (ADP). Dr. Adam Bruckner was their instructor. Hyreus was a follow-on to UW’s 1992 Project Minerva NASA/USRA ADP study, which proposed a piloted Mars expedition based on the 1990 Martin Marietta Mars Direct plan. The Minerva study had found feasible Mars Direct’s reliance on Earth-return rocket propellants manufactured from martian resources, a technique called In Situ Propellant Production (ISPP).

In the Mars Direct, Minerva, and Hyreus plans, ISPP relied on carbon dioxide gas in the martian atmosphere because it is readily available all over the planet. Carbon dioxide makes up about 95% of Mars’ s atmosphere, which is only about 1% as dense as Earth’s atmosphere. The UW students emphasized a Sabatier/Reverse Water-Gas Shift (RWGS) ISPP system, which would produce liquid methane fuel and liquid oxygen oxidizer, though they also examined a carbon monoxide ISPP system.

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