Martian Spring

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Mars has captured humanity’s imagination since prehistory - and now it may be in our grasp.


Mars has captured humanity’s imagination since prehistory - and now it may be in our grasp. Notions of human exploration and settlement are being taken more seriously than ever. Taking the next giant leap forward starts with small steps here on Earth. We intend to take an active role in enabling these steps. There are countless paths to reaching Mars.

Some near term goals are as follows:
- Raise the technological readiness levels (TRL) of Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) technologies
- Investigate potential of in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) and closed/regenerative ECLSS technologies
- Determine fundamental engineering requirements and implementation strategies for exploration and settlement
- Determine quality-of-life requirements and implementation strategies for exploration and settlement


Energy is a critical limiting factor in plans to develop a base on Mars into a manufacturing facility that can expand into a self-sufficient colony. It limits how much subsurface ice can be melted and processed, how many structural bricks can be baked, how much iron and glass can be smelted, and critically, how much CO2 and water can be processed into rocket fuel, plastics, and lubricants. The extreme cold also means that many types of equipment left outside will need to be heated to keep them operational. Importing power generation systems from earth would be costly for the organization sponsoring the base, and would limit what the colonists could do in terms of growing their industry during the 18 month periods between launch windows. Additionally, unexpected failure of power generation systems that cannot be replaced on-site would put the colony in danger, or at least drastically slow down its industrial growth. Using resources that are relatively simple to refine and readily available on Mars, like iron, glass, and polyethylene, what energy generation systems could be mass-produced by martian colonists with minimal use of materials imported from earth? The book “Mars: Prospective Energy and Material Resources” by Vlorel Badescu, which I read a year or so ago, gives several options, some more realistic than others. Two that stand out from a simplicity of manufacturing perspective are wind turbines and solar-thermal generators. (Yes, wind power is possible on mars, it’s because of the higher density of CO2 and the higher wind speeds) How would you go about designing and manufacturing these systems, or can you think of an alternative? I’m thinking that this could turn into a project that someone could build in their backyard at fairly low cost, which would demonstrate a piece of space technology that would be very useful to base designers and mission planners.
I ran across this ( blog post, which presented a design for a spacecraft capable of generating a magnetic field big enough to protect all of Mars from solar particle radiation. The design uses a 415 megawatt nuclear reactor to power a 57 ton copper solenoid. Since I am working on a proposal for a mission to demonstrate a powerful magnetic sail technology, (called a plasma magnet) I went ahead and did a back-of-the-calculator estimate on what it would take to get similar performance. If scaling relations for the plasma magnet hold up to thousands of kilometers, then a set of coils 14 meters in diameter, made of aluminum, with about 1 ton of mass would only need 600 kilowatts of electrical power to create a Mars-sized magnetosphere. This is only 12 times what the ISS solar array would produce at Mars. The only problem I can see is that a magnetic sail this large would generate almost 300 kilonewtons of thrust. You’d probably have to attach it to a small asteroid to keep it balanced on the Lagrange point. If it really is possible to give Mars a magnetosphere with currently existing technology and a few BFR flights (and my cubesat mission would go a long way towards showing that), then would it be worthwhile for a colonization project to do this early on? I’ve seen conflicting opinions on how dangerous solar activity is for people on the surface.

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