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Trans Mars Injection

The design goal was to make a Mars exploration ship based on direct engineering applications at current technologies with the aim of coming up with something under 200 metric tonnes that could be launched by the mid-late 2020s (or today, if funding, design and construction were instantaneous).

The spacecraft stack, as shown in this image consists of two major sections; The Trans Mars Injection (TMI) stage, seen at left, and the Exploration Stack (right).

The TMI stage is a nuclear thermal rocket stage using liquid hydrogen propellant to launch the stack into a 180 day transfer orbit towards Mars.  This puts both the TMI and exploration stages on a two year free return path to Earth, allowing for eventual Earth capture (using the aerobrake shield) and re-use of the TMI stage, plus automatic return if something goes wrong with the Exploration Stac
The Exploration Stack supports a crew of four and consists (forward to back) of an aerobrake shield, for Mars capture and eventual Earth return capture.  Next, a Mars lander, then an airlock and utility module, with attached liquid oxygen and methane fuel tanks, a robot arm and the primary power plant, a 100kW nuclear reactor on an extensible boom (towards the top of the image).  Next is the Central Node, with system control equipment and links to additional modules: Left and right mounted habitation modules, lower mounted cargo node, with another robot arm (though they can move from node to node, like the one on the space station) and a 48kW backup solar array (only 19kW at the fainter sunlight out by Mars).  On top of the Central Node is the Earth Return Craft, based on the SpaceX Dragon capsule, but with an extended range service module.  Finally, there is the engine stage, with thrusters and three main engines for the return trip to Earth.  

The standard mission profile calls for a six month voyage to Mars followed by aerocapture and transfer to Phobos, from which the lander will launch to conduct a thirty day "sprint" mission to the surface of Mars.  Total stay at Mars is 21 months, including explorations of both Phobos and Deimos, plus remote operation of the rover left by the Mars surface team.  Subsequent expeditions would set up a long duration Mars base (launched separately) and remain on the surface for the full Mars stay duration.  Return to Earth is another six month voyage ending in aerocapture and transfer to the "Superdragon" for landing.

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