8
$\begingroup$

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
$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ If the answer by @brooks-nelson is right, then my assumption in the question that "it would be beyond the capabilities of any unmanned mission to actually set up a production-grade refinery on Mars" is wrong. $\endgroup$ – Candamir Jul 21 '17 at 16:48
  • $\begingroup$ They would only land after they have verified that they can produce enough propellant in the chosen region. Its not like they fly into the blue and just look what might happen, those things are planned and investigated long in advance. $\endgroup$ – Polygnome Jul 23 '17 at 1:34
  • $\begingroup$ There should be telemetry for propellant production and stock. Don't start from Earth to Mars if something is wrong with telemetry data for propellant production and storage. But what if the astronauts are on their way to Mars when the telemetry data for propellants shows a leak in the tanks? $\endgroup$ – Uwe Jul 23 '17 at 17:01
6
$\begingroup$

If Elon Musk's plan is similar to the Mars Direct plan, which was the first to consider in situ propellant production, an unmanned return vehicle is launched in advance with a small chemical plant. That chemical plant would then produce the propellant and fill the tanks, so to speak. After being verified, the crewed vehicle launches on the next window to Mars.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I am selecting this answer as the "right" answer because it is a useful answer. Strictly speaking, however, I guess the answer to my question is that at this stage Elon Musk has not yet talked in further detail about his plans for in-situ propellant production. $\endgroup$ – Candamir Jul 21 '17 at 15:06

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.