Wind turbine

From Marspedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Fictional wind turbine on Mars as portrayed in the video game Surviving Mars. Here, the turbines revolve around a vertical axis, allowing for wind capture from all directions, rather than simply horizontally.

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 the 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 typical 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.

NASA proposes the following wind speeds: Wind speeds: 2-7 m/s (summer), 5-10 m/s (fall), 17-30 m/s (dust storm) (Viking Lander sites)[6]

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.


P = ½*n*p*As*v3 , where n is turbine efficiency, p is atmospheric density (kg/m3), As is swept area of the turbine (m2), and v is wind speed (m/s). The maximum efficiency is 16/27 (60%) as given by Betz’ law. For a small 10m diameter turbine As=78m2, an efficiency of 31% , air density of 0,02 kg/m3 and a wind speed of 10 m/s, P= 487W.

For the above parameters a typical large windmill on Earth produces 12W/kg, where the mass includes blades, generator and tower. This is lower than the 33 W/kg that can be reached by solar, but the availability may be higher. In particular during dust storms on Mars the available solar power is very low, but the air speed is much higher. As the power is to the cube of the air speed, the average wind power per kg would then be about equal to the sun power per kg, making the two forms of energy complementary.

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?
  • What is the feasibility of airborne wind turbines (i.e. rotors supported in the air without a tower) on Mars?


  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.