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Assume that we need just the following Martian resources for our colony:

  • O2
  • N2
  • H2O
  • Regolith for radiation shielding
  • Regolith for construction
  • Regolith for printing tools
  • Martian compounds for rocket fuel

From The resources of Mars for human settlement - Meyer TR and McKay CP

How much surface area do we need on Mars to establish collection of all these resources for a colony of 7 people (max capacity of the Dragon)?


Other things to consider:

  • Habitat
  • Food production
  • Variations in approach

    SF pointed out a variety of assumptions:

    Assumptions: water recovered from regolith or air? Oxygen by distillation of CO2 or cyanobacteria farm? Power solar or nuclear? Surface/subsurface shelter or cave?

    Out of the plausible options that have been presented in scholarly/technical discourse, you should assume that which requires the most surface area. If you wish, you can also specify the lower surface area requirements of the alternatives.

  • Landing site for deliveries from Earth (no need to estimate for launch facilities)

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  • $\begingroup$ You can also assume a landing site for deliveries from Earth as part of the surface area, but no need to estimate for launch facilities. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Jul 12, 2016 at 12:56
  • $\begingroup$ Assumptions: water recovered from regolith or air? Oxygen by distillation of CO2 or cyanobacteria farm? Power solar or nuclear? Surface/subsurface shelter or cave? $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Jul 12, 2016 at 13:52
  • $\begingroup$ @SF. Out of the plausible options that have been presented in scholarly/technical discourse, you should assume that which requires the most surface area. If you wish, you can also specify the lower surface area requirements of the alternatives. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Jul 12, 2016 at 13:56
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    $\begingroup$ You don't need to eat? $\endgroup$ Jul 12, 2016 at 14:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Andy I am talking about a permanent colony, but I'm only considering in situ gathering of the resources listed in the question. Of course, if you wanted to include phosphorus in an answer as a bonus, that would be fine. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Jul 12, 2016 at 15:17

1 Answer 1

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Of these, the only one that isn't well known is nitrogen. The nitrogen levels at Mars are somewhat unknown, but expected to be pretty low overall. Of course, nitrogen isn't required for a colony of what you have.

The one thing that actually takes area is to grow food, which you did not include. On Earth, growing crops requires about 1 acre of land per person per year. I believe Mars habitats would be closely monitored in temperature, and have less meat, which would increase the yield by a factor of two. More intense methods could make that to a single acre, as is discussed at World Building. In fact, it could be much less than this, but...

In The Martian, assuming a 2500 calorie diet of pure potatoes requires about 370 m2 of land. Let's increase that to 500 m2 to allow for other types of crops to be grown to give at least some variety. That also gives about 1 acre of land (4046 m2) feeding 7 people So far so good, 4000 m2 of farmland would be the minimum required.

Beyond this, the shelter could in theory be below the farmland and be just fine. Give, say, 500 m2 for stuff on the surface, and one would be more than fine. Let's even round up, and say that about 700 m2 of land is required per astronaut.

Fuel for the return would come from the atmosphere. The amount of regolith required to make the water would vary depending on where you land, but might require some significant investment. If you are planning on purely solar powered operations, an area of 6600 m2 of panels would be required to give 100 kWe of power. Nuclear power is highly recommended, not only because it is more dense power wise, but also produces waste heat, which can be used for heating the habitats.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is a pretty good answer. Also, would any of the resource gathering be required to take place at a different location from the colony? If so, it would be good to know a ballpark figure for what kind of distance we would be looking at. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Jul 12, 2016 at 14:17
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    $\begingroup$ By the way according to wikipedia there's a bit of Nitrogen in the atmosphere (1.89%). No idea if that's enough to get some out by liquefaction & distillation... $\endgroup$
    – Andy
    Jul 12, 2016 at 15:10
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    $\begingroup$ I suppose it could be done, I didn't realize it was that high... $\endgroup$
    – PearsonArtPhoto
    Jul 12, 2016 at 15:12
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    $\begingroup$ If radiation is an issue for Martian colonists, wouldn't it be an issue for plant life too? Might you need to grow crops under artificial light inside your shielded habitat and use the surface acreage for solar panels to power the grow lights? Or would plant life be tolerant of whatever radiation makes it through the glass/whatever roof of your Martian greenhouse along with the needed light? $\endgroup$
    – Anthony X
    Nov 2, 2016 at 1:49
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    $\begingroup$ Data from Chernobyl shows that plants don't suffer unless there is at least 5 Rad/year of radiation. large.stanford.edu/courses/2015/ph241/miller1 $\endgroup$
    – PearsonArtPhoto
    Nov 2, 2016 at 2:13

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