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Shortly after the establishment of the permanent Moon bases in 2005, the tender for the contract to build the first manned spacecraft to go to Mars was issued by the WTA (World Trade Authority). The aim was to land a craft by 2009, in order to take advantage of certain environmental conditions on Mars and the fortieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon. Whilst the carrier craft was being built in orbit around Earth, Avery Astronautics and Consolidated Aerospace set to work on their proposals for the lander/ascent stage spacecraft.
By the first half of 2007, prototypes from both companies were flying and Consolidated stole a march on its rival Avery by flight testing their spacecraft on the Moon. Consolidated made the most of the publicity to show how supposedly superior their craft was. However it had a design difference that helped Avery's proposal. Consolidated went for a two-stage lander that utilised an decent stage that was left behind, similar to the Apollo-era LEM. However this proved to be a flawed design in this case as in June 2007 during the second and third tests of the prototypes, the ascent stage fired but caused the base of the craft to tip violently so the ascent stage launched at an angle. An investigation took place but found no specific cause. However a month later during a test on the Moon, the same problem occurred again but this time the jolt was sufficient enough to knock the crew ascent stage off course and crash land on the lunar surface. Two of the four crew were injured and a rescue craft successfully retrieved the crew. Consolidated's plans were wrecked and Avery's proposal was accepted within a month.
Avery Astronautics, who were a little behind in building their craft, soon caught up and their prototype first flew in August 2007. The design principle differed from Consolidated's in that the base engine section remained with the command module when the craft lifted off from the lunar surface. This made for a larger craft, but widened the variety of options that were available for the number of surface landings. Once the flight tests were completed, two of the orbiters were attached to the carrier craft on its first flight to Mars.
The first Tharsis Orbiter landed on Mars in the Tharsis Tholus region on the 31st of July 2009, just over forty years since Apollo 11 landed on the Moon in July 1969. The orbiter helped establish Man's first settlement on Mars and during the next decade made regular trips ferrying supplies and personnel to and from the surface. The craft's versatility was in its 'go anywhere' ability and made several first landings across Mars which helped set up the other major bases at Elysium, Cydonia and Syrtis Major. Once the permanent bases and landing strips were constructed, the larger AAT181 cargo shuttle was used due to its greater cargo carrying capabilities.
Tharsis Orbiters also made landings on the Moons of Mars (Phobos and Diemos), initially setting up experiments which led to the research and manufacturing stations being established there.
Avery produced extra components for the Orbiter, namely extra sections that fitted in between the engine and command module, due to the modular design. These consisted of extra crew compartments, cargo areas, solar arrays, experiment and probe bays.
A problem with Avery's design was that as the ship was so large, some method had to be found to allow the crew to descend from the upper Command section, and also transport experiments and small transport vehicles. Firstly, there was the crew access system where they would move via an interconnecting tunnel to the lower engine section. A further conduit linked the outer door, where a motorized ladder would allow access to the floor. Once on the ground, at opposite sides of the engine section, panels would lower to the bottom of the floor from the underside of the ship, revealing the cargo bays. Though awkward to use, this access system was the best compromise so that a large powerful engine with multiple lift-off capability could be accommodated.
Avery's engineers employed a total of sixteen engines in the lower stage, ten around the base edge of the ship and six main engines in the centre. The outer engines helped with the stability of the craft during landing, takeoff and orbital maneuvers, with only the six main engines used during flight. Thrusters dotted around the ship helped complement its maneuverability.
Though the original craft was obsolete by the late 2020's, the same design principles have continued to this day and the Tharsis Orbiters descendants continue to help spread Man's presence throughout the stars.
Civil & Commercial/Terran
Manufacturer - Avery Astronautics
Classification - Short-Range Landing Craft
Main Drive - Avery Liquid methane/hydrogen Type S5 350,000lbs thrust
Secondary Drive - Avery Liquid methane/hydrogen Type S1B 75,000lbs thrust
Personnel - 8-16 crew
Defence - Duralloy 1cm thick
In-service date - 2009
About this image:- October 2006, POV-Ray 3.6, Bryce 4.1, AC3D 6.03.