The first Virtual Mars Mission (VMM) in Türkiye is successfully carried out by Mars on Earth Project (MoEP) between January 2-8, 2023. We would like to share the details of the mission, from the preliminary preparation steps to the completion.
First of all, there are two fundamental questions we want to answer;
- What is a Virtual Mars Mission?
- Are there similar studies in the world?
Virtual Mars studies are missions designed to predict the problems that may occur during a real Mars mission, to prepare the crew for these missions, and to create the infrastructure of the missions in this direction.
This structure is based on a system in which crew members perform and report the tasks assigned to them through a scenario constructed in a virtual environment.
MoEP, who designed Türkiye’s first Analog Mars Research Station, started virtual mission studies in this direction and developed the Virtual Mars Mission series.
One privilege sets the MoEP-Virtual Mars Missions apart and makes them very special. During the MoEP-Virtual Mars Missions, a first in the world;
Deep Space Network (DSN) for the instructions transmitted from Earth to Mars and Mars Satellite Ground Communication for mission results sent from Mars to Earth were simulated. Es’hail 2/QO-100, an actual amateur communication satellite orbiting 36000 Km GEO, and MoEP-Amateur Satellite Communication Stations were used to realize this.
The satellite communication infrastructure of the MoEP-Virtual Mars Mission was created using real satellite communication infrastructure as stated above, the time delay between Earth and Mars was also included in the scenario, and since there would be no real-time communication, mutual communication was sent and received in video mail message format.
First MoEP-Virtual Mars Mission, Code: BURAK-1
MoEP Virtual Mars Missions are planned to be 7, 14, and 21 SOLs (Mars days). Participating teams consist of a minimum of 7 people. The mission’s research focus is shaped according to the crew’s expertise and educational status, and the mission’s content is designed specifically.
The first mission of the series is designed with a focus on astrobiology research under the leadership of Plant Molecular Biologist and BURAK-1 task force commander Tuğçe CELAYİR. The all-female crew; was selected from among MoEP volunteers who are experts and trainees in biology and pharmacy.
BURAK-1 also aims to support women’s participation in space studies and gender equality by symbolizing the women-space force.
BURAK-1, chosen as the mission code name, means “rising into the sky” and was suggested by the virtual task force commander, and the mission logo was also designed by the team based on this.
Virtual Mission Preparations
The design and preliminary preparation of the entire mission series with different disciplines, including the MoEP-Virtual Mars Mission BURAK-1, is managed by MoEP.
The Es’hail 2/QO-100 amateur communication satellite, which is suitable for video transmission, has the widest coverage area and is planned to be used in the MoEP-Virtual Mars Mission; unfortunately, it cannot be used only by Turkish amateur radio operators in the world within the framework of the national frequency band plan.
MoEP-Finland Amateur Satellite Communication Station and MoEP-Germany Amateur Satellite Communication Station were assigned to take part in the task in order to solve the problem. A meeting was held with our station operators Burcu Aybak Dinc (OH2CAV/TA2NBA), Barış Dinc (OH2UDS/TA7W), and İsmail Erdogan(DL2IE) and as virtual Mars mission designer Ruha Uslu (TA2IRU), a mission document was created within the framework of planning.
The VMM Book of Assignments
The virtual mission is a combination of real science, amateur radio, and fiction. Since some of the infrastructures used in amateur radio will be used in the missions, the crew was also informed about this subject. A presentation that includes Morse code usage, digital modes, and satellite and terrestrial radio communication structures was made by MoEP mission moderators.
The VMM Book of Assignments was prepared, and the tasks to be assigned to the crew on a daily basis were classified and explained in detail in the documents.
The crew was pre-trained before the mission, and the information they might need was shared.
MoEP Virtual Mars Mission Scenario includes;
- Mission planning, hierarchy, crew and time discipline,
- Preparation for transfer from the main station to the research station,
- Departure planning for the crew carrier rover, with route and power calculation on the online Mars map,
- ALFA-1 Station and emergency scenarios,
- All-day satellite communication outage scenarios for ALFA-1 Station,
- Management of the oxygen, water, food, electrical power and other reserves of the ALFA-1 Station,
- Field meteorological reporting (fictional meteorological map data created in a digital mode used in amateur radio, coded sound file sent to the crew and analyzed by the crew with a mobile application),
- Area exploration and analysis studies on online maps,
- Message transfer and decoding studies using Morse,
- Scientific research at the ALFA-1 Station laboratory,
- Return to Earth scenario implemented by the crew at the end of the mission.
Besides the training, a technical visit was organized to Istanbul Technical University (ITU) – Space Systems Design and Test Laboratory (USTTL) to inform the crew about space and satellite studies and to raise awareness of the crew members on the current satellite studies conducted in our country.
During this event, the technical infrastructure, equipment, capasity, and capabilities of the laboratory were introduced by experts. Additionally, crew members had a chance to ask their questions about ongoing projects and completed satellite models.
Subsequently, the BURAK-1 crew was invited to a special meeting of the radio operators on the “Amatörce Sohbetler” channel, which was also created by MoEP volunteers in order to bring together amateur radio operators in a virtual environment, and they had the chance to talk to the radio amateurs about the project. Serenay Uslu (TA2ISU), a licensed radio amateur and one of the MoEP co-founders, attended the meeting with the crew and made the opening speech.
Accomplishing BURAK-1 Mission
The BURAK-1 Mission was successfully completed with the serious dedication and effort of the crew members, who were excited to participate in the first virtual mission. During their mission, all crew members completed and reported the tasks assigned to them daily with different difficulty levels and subjects in absolute time discipline.
As the output of the BURAK-1 mission, 32 separate mission reports were presented, the reserve status and meteorological data to be analyzed in a real analog mission were studied, and the ideas arising from the research missions were recorded for implementation in the MoEP-Analog Mars Research Station laboratory.
In the online meetings held during the 7-day mission, each crew member made presentations representing the research area, summarized the tasks performed in the SOL they were in, and reported them at the crew meeting.
After the mission, all crew members were certified as “Candidate Analog Astronauts” who could work on the MoEP Analog Mars Station.
Social Responsibility Mission
The BURAK-1 crew encouraged women’s participation in space studies by organizing a presentation and related speech while performing a social responsibility mission in SOL-7.
As MoEP, we support gender equality in space studies and all fields of science, and we continue to work to see strong women who produce the technology of the future. By giving this message within the scope of the virtual mission, the BURAK-1 crew sets an example for raising strong women who will leave their footprints on the Moon and Mars.
Moderator Control in Virtual Missions
The virtual task was followed by MoEP-Virtual Mission Moderators from beginning to end. The moderators took notes throughout the study, and the notes taken, and the issues on the subject were discussed with the crew in the Q&A part.
While the primary responsibility for executing virtual missions lies with the task force commander – with initiatives being taken – virtual mission moderators act as controllers of the mission’s execution in the absolute discipline. At the end of the daily mission, the virtual mission moderators reported crew attendance, time discipline compliance, presentation score, and team overall mission score online on the system at the end of the daily mission.
Virtual mission moderators are authorized to cancel the daily mission or the team’s mission ultimately, without exception, in case of non-compliance with the defined rules. The discipline score they report takes priority in this regard.
Statistical Output of Burak-1 Mission
- (138) Page MoEP-Virtual Mars Mission preparation document has been created.
- (87) Page MoEP-Virtual Mars Mission final report has been prepared.
- (12) pieces, (9) minutes in total Video has been prepared for daily instruction transfer and mission result reports in the Deep Space Network simulation used in communication between Earth and Mars.
- Es’hail 2/QO-100 amateur satellite was used (28) times.
- (3) A total of (17) minutes of Virtual Mars Mission promotional videos were prepared.
- (3) Online meetings were held for preliminary preparation and training purposes.
- (4) The staff worked as a licensed amateur radio operator.
- (2) Staff served as Virtual Mars Mission Moderator.
- (8) Number of task presentations have been prepared.
- (7) SSTV studies in Robot36, PD90, PD120 formats and (5) Morse code studies were prepared.
- (1) Number of online boarding ticket applications are coded.
BURAK-1 Mission Follow-up Certificate and Surprise Awards
Within the scope of the BURAK-1 Mission, people who follow the mission broadcast from the Es’hail 2/QO-100 satellite qualified for tracking certificates. A T-shirt with the MoEP and BURAK-1 logo was given to one person in an online drawing held among those who used the boarding ticket application.
Throughout the mission, it was decided to allow different sponsors to participate in the missions. Moreover, MoEP will continue to give surprise gifts for every Virtual Mars Mission.
MoEP-Virtual Mars Mission-2 Preparations Started
After the first mission, we started to work on the second step of the MoEP-Virtual Mars Mission series without wasting time. The second mission focused on geological research and built on collaboration with MoEP’s international volunteers.
The second mission aims to develop satellite communication infrastructure, evaluate geology research proposals, and emphasize international multidisciplinary work and team spirit as a social message.
Applications are already sold out for the second Virtual Mars Mission! However, we still have empty places for the next missions. Please follow our Virtual Mission calls on our website and social media addresses.
How to Apply for MoEP-Virtual Mars Mission?
To become a MoEP-Virtual Mars Mission crew, you must review our detailed article about applications and fill out the MoEP-Virtual Mars Application Form. International applications are accepted through the common application form. Therefore, the application form has been prepared in English. MoEP Volunteers have priority in applications.
MoEP gives importance to team applications in order to preserve team spirit. The number of crew members for team applications is at least (7) for now. When the application is made in this way, the teams that pass the pre-qualification are assigned to the appropriate virtual mars mission.
In individual applications, it is essential that the applicant be included in the team with the approval of the leader of a team whose application is available and planned for a future date by MoEP. In this case, the process may take a long time in individual applications.
MoEP-Virtual Mars Mission BURAK-1 Video
We are preparing a detailed video to summarize the work done within the scope of the BURAK-1 Mission. This video content will be very informative for candidates who want to participate in future studies. You can watch the video with Turkish or English subtitles if you wish. When the MoEP-Virtual Mars Mission BURAK-1 Video is published, it will be announced on the MoEP website and social media accounts.
From Us to You
As MoEP, we are honored to contribute to Türkiye’s space ecosystem, as more and more local companies are starting to enter the space race with each passing day, via having accomplished Türkiye’s first Virtual Mars Mission.
MoEP-Virtual Mars Mission Sponsorship
Virtual Missions are supported by sponsors to meet the material needs of the MoEP-School Mars Bases Project. In this way, it is aimed to supply materials such as electronic components such as Raspberry Pi and/or Arduino boards, sensors, cables, hats, and t-shirts to school Mars bases.
One or more sponsors can support a virtual mission; if they wish, the sponsors can be the only supporters of a specific mission. The logo and name of a sponsor are published in MoEP social media and website posts related to Virtual Mars Mission.
BURAK-1 Virtual Mars Mission Sponsor
MoEP-Virtual Mars Mission BURAK-I was sponsored by ÖYLER company, which has a service procurement and confidentiality agreement with MoEP. We thank them for their support.