I am referring to this recently published document.
Producing propellant on Mars is a key part of Elon Musk's plan. What would happen if the first crew got to Mars and found out that, for whatever reason, it is not feasible to produce (enough) propellant (deep-cryo methalox) there? I know that this would be a big blow to the economics of the colonization of Mars as envisioned by Elon Musk, but more practically, what happens with that first crew?
(I guess that there will be unmanned missions to (i) verify that the required raw materials are available in proximity to the site of the planned colony and (ii) perhaps even to attempt conducting the relevant chemical processes on a small scale. However, I presume that it would be beyond the capabilities of any unmanned mission to actually set up a production-grade refinery on Mars. If my assumption in the previous sentence is wrong, then that would obviously render my question moot.)
Some options that I have thought about:
- The first mission carries the components necessary to build the refinery as well as enough propellant to be able to make it home in case the refinery doesn't work out (if that is the plan, would one ship be enough?)
- The first mission carries the components necessary to build the refinery as well as enough supplies for the crew to be able to wait for a re-supply or rescue mission launched during the next transfer window