- exploring, developing, & settling the red planet -


The development of local resources and the manufacturing of parts will be a very important objective especially on Mars. This is a process termed in-situ resource utilization (ISRU). The travel times to Mars are such that we would want Starships delivering passengers as much as possible and cargo as little as possible. Very large inflatable habitats could provide a shirt sleeve environment where crew could produce these local resources.

The largest material in a mission is the propellant. For Mars, this would be Mars ascent and descent propellant. If the crew were mostly going one way and if the Starships were going one way then we might expect that this propellant wouldn't need to be produced on Mars. But for now the plan is to produce return propellant from Martian resources. This would come from atmospheric CO2 and harvested hydrogen from Martian water ice. Using the Sabatier process, methane and liquid oxygen would be the propellants needed to refuel the Starships. Water is, of course, very useful otherwise for drinking, sanitation, and irrigating plants. When electrolyzed, the oxygen would be useful for breathing.

It would be a challenge to produce Starship quantities of propellant using only sunlight (photovoltaics) at Mars distance. At some point nuclear power would need to be used including nuclear equipment that could out significant quantities of power. This power source would be useful for not only propellant production but the mass production of plastics and metals.

Between the carbon (95%) and nitrogen (2%) present in the Martian air plus the water ice under a dirt layer over much of Mars, organic chemistry becomes possible. Plastics, solvents, and other organics can be produces with the right ingredients, power, and equipment. Whereas metals would be the default material for all sorts of things, on Mars the default material would be plastics for just as much as it could be used for.

The experience with the lunar greenhouse would be applied to the Martian greenhouse. From the get-go one would expect most all of the nutrition to be provided by hydro and aquaponics. And also fiber plants (e.g. cotton) could be grown for the production of textiles. Hopefully, AI robotics would be able to plant, pick, prepare, and package food autonomously.

An easy, early source of metals are meteorites laying on the surface of Mars. Being near the asteroid belt, and with little atmosphere, Mars gets far more metal meteorites on its surface than Earth. NASA rovers on Mars have obtained photos of about 50 or so nickel-iron meteorites on the sands of Mars. A rough estimate is that there is about 875 kg of this unoxidized metal per square km. Automated robots could systematically scout square kilometers and pick up these meteorites and return them to the base. However, the surface metals for several kilometers would have been cleared of their meteorite metals making the production of metals from oxidized metals from the Martian dirt the more energy-intensive approach to getting metals.

Much work remains to be done to describe and demonstrate the production of useful materials and equipment from the sort of material expected to be present on Mars. A lot of this work is simply applying the processes which have been in use for decades or more. Yet, it would be most helpful for space advocates to bring together these processes to a single location such as a Moon-Mars Analogue Base. By so doing it could help the decision-makers and wealthy philanthropists to realize that increasing levels of Earth independence are possible and so fund the formal development of these systems.

Local resources can be used to produce the materials and equipment needed by an early Martian colony.

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