Wind turbine

From Marspedia
Revision as of 12:50, 12 July 2019 by Sdubois (talk | contribs) (Updated article and reworked existing content. Added several points from the original draft where citations are needed.)
Jump to: navigation, search

Wind turbines can generate electric or pneumatic energy. This would be particularly useful in situations where other methods of power generation are inappropriate, such as during dust storms which can obscure the sun for weeks at a time, thereby rendering solar panels highly ineffective.[1] Missions to the poles of Mars in particular stand to benefit from wind power: polar latitudes may spend half a year with little to no sunlight, and radioisotope thermoelectric generators such as that found on the Curiosity rover give off heat which may be similarly undesirable for the scientific goals of a polar mission.[2]

How will wind power work in Mars' thin atmosphere?

Observations of dust devils and dust storms demonstrate that wind exists in the atmosphere of Mars. Yet, this atmosphere is comparatively thin, with a surface pressure less than 1% of that found on Earth.[3] This means that electricity generation via turbines would require wind speeds roughly triple those on Earth[1] or rotor blades 100-times larger[citation needed] (which in turn would pose problems for stability and material consumption). Initial evidence from Viking and Pathfinder missions did not indicate strong winds,[1] making the viability of turbines unclear—with the fragmentary nature of the available knowledge about strength and duration of wind as well as about global wind patterns,[citation needed|Have we discovered more information since the first draft of this article?] an experimental setup and additional explorations on Mars are needed to evaluate their efficiency.

Even so, the data from the Viking and Pathfinder missions did not include findings from dust storms, which computer modeling and wind tunnel tests have shown can only be created and sustained by high levels of winds.[1] This leads to the possibility of wind turbines which exclusively operate during dust storms,[1] supplementing solar power during the very storms which impede their efficiency. NASA AMES tested a 100 kW wind turbine at their Antarctica station; while this site serves as a general Mars analog due to its harsh conditions, the thin atmosphere was obviously not recreated, and the turbine itself was far too large and heavy for current science missions.[4] A more recent study argued for the feasibility of electricity generation via wind power even outside of dust storm conditions: researchers tested a sample turbine constructed out of parchment paper, straws, wood, and LEGOs in a wind tunnel simulating atmospheric conditions on Mars.[5] The experiment utilized a variety of wind speeds based on those found at the Phoenix polar landing site (roughly 2-6 meters/second), finding that more efficiently-constructed turbines could theoretically power a lander equal or smaller in size to the Mars Pathfinder.

If wind turbines are confirmed to be of value in the future, most, if not all, of the components could be fabricated using Martian resources.[citation needed]

Issues arising from dust

Windblown dust could clog up moving parts. Also, maintenance could be expensive, as abrasion cannot be completely avoided. Lubricant may be difficult to produce on Mars and might act differently due to environmental conditions; hence, a nonlubricant-based construction such as pure magnetic bearings without direct contact may be required.

Open Issues

  • What is the effect (efficiency) of thin air on the wind turbines?
  • What maintenance effort can be expected under Martian conditions?
  • What lubricant can be used under Martian conditions? What are the effects upon the lubricant?


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Bluck, J. (2001, October 10). NASA - News Release. Retrieved July 12, 2019, from
  2. Holstein-Rathlou, C., Thomas, P. E., Merrison, J., & Iversen, J. J. (2018). Wind Turbine Power Production Under Current Martian Atmospheric Conditions. LPI Contributions, 2086.
  3. Haberle, R. M. (1 January 2015), North, Gerald R.; Pyle, John; Zhang, Fuqing (eds.), "SOLAR SYSTEM/SUN, ATMOSPHERES, EVOLUTION OF ATMOSPHERES | Planetary Atmospheres: Mars", Encyclopedia of Atmospheric Sciences (Second Edition), Academic Press, pp. 168–177, doi:10.1016/b978-0-12-382225-3.00312-1, ISBN 9780123822253, retrieved 6 June 2019
  4. Coleman (ed.) (2013) NASA Spinoff, pp.106-107; cited in Holstein-Rathlou et al. (2018).
  5. Holstein-Rathlou, C., Thomas, P. E., Merrison, J., & Iversen, J. J. (2018). Wind Turbine Power Production Under Current Martian Atmospheric Conditions. LPI Contributions, 2086.