My post at Destination: Moon describes the first stage of settlement off Earth:  28 souls leave Earth on 4 ships to travel about a week to separate Moon landings on the lunar surface to create a habitats.  While ths will work for the Moon, it will NOT work for Mars.

Sending a few people at a time, even the 7 that SpaceX dragon can, will never work economically to develop a settlement as far away as Mars.  Current estimates are around $5 billion PER SHIP TO MARS.  That’s personell OR supplies – $5 Billion each.  There isn’t enough budget for that. ( check out these references:  NBC News / Reason.com / The Space Review

Money aside, several additional issues crop up.

  1. The issue of launching from the ground on Earth a single super massive ship directly to Mars.  The SLS, and SpaceX MCT are examples of the “Direct-Shot” method of sending a handful of people to Mars at an unreasonable cost – and with NO return on that investment.
  2. The prospect of delivering sufficient habitat and supplies so they can survive the two years until the next shipment arrives.  That means at least one more ship launched from the ground at $5 Billion direct to Mars.
  3. Neither NASA nor her sister agencies have resolved the the threats associated with radiation and lack of gravity.

For example, if you look at the history of the ISS, there have been 75 supply ships of five varieties that delivered cargo to the ISS.  And every one of them burned up on reentry.

Craft Launched Endurance Status
Progress 57 6 Months Burned up on Re-entry
ATV 6 6 Months Burned up on Re-entry
HTV 5 30 Days Burned up on Re-entry
Cygnus 2 2 Years Burned up on Re-entry
Dragon 6 2 Years Returned for Re-Use
– Total – 75
ATV

ATV

HTV

HTV

Cygnus

Cygnus

DragonV2

DragonV2

Soyuz

Soyuz

Of these 75 craft, only the 6 Dragon craft returned to Earth for potential re-use.  That’s a lot of modules wasted, 69 units.

The station’s population is up to six; with regular transport via the Shuttle, and lately the Soyuz.  Soon, Dragon and CST-100 with be delivering astronauts.  But only the Dragon is designed for reuse.

So let’s repurpose most of the ships that deliver to the ISS.  Instead of burning them up in the atmosphere, ferry them to lunar orbit, and EML2.  To be assembled into a larger Mars Ship.  Now while this will get supply/storage components to EML2, it will NOT get living space for people … lots of people, to the large ship for the ride to Mars.

As I describe in the post, Destination: Moon, SpaceX Dragon craft could serve as our landing/ascent craft to the EML2 station.  Once the settlement is established, at least two of these craft will be permanently assigned and docket to the Mars Craft for the journey.

With methodology (basically refuel the cargo units to get to EML2) to get these units to Lunar orbit, we can then begin thinking about how to extend their functionality for the trip to Mars.  A first issue is to plan for the extended life of each unit.  One key issue most modules face in Earth Orbit is the constant heating as they pass on the Sun-side of Earth, and then the cooling as they pass the night-side of the earth.  This happens every 90 minutes.  While at EML2, this will be somewhat reduced, the cycle will mostly be extended, i.e. longer exposures of heat and cooling.

Tech We’ll Need

TransLunar Tug – Basically an engine component that is refuelable, relightable, and dockable with any craft.  It’s sole purpose is powering cargo and personnel between the Earth and Moon.

Water Blanket – First, a way to 1) increase the resistance to radiation for each of the modules, and 2) increase our water carrying/circulating capacity. An additional blanket wrapped around the modules designed from the fabric that is used in the Bigelow Habitats is an excellent choice.  A wrap, that is rolled up into 24-36″ widths, with an internal bladder and hose connections at each end would be able to serve multiple purposes. Wrapping key modules with this “hose layer” would provide additional radiation and thermal protection, but also a means to “upgrade” the modules with a water blanket.

This “water blanket” would serve several purposes.  One is to provide an economic ROI for Bigelow Aerospace to manufacture a product with an immediate value to the market … rather than waiting for the market to catch up to his Habitat modules.  Second, while the blanket would require an EVA to install, a small “cube-drone” could be designed to perform the installation more efficiently.

Cube-Drone – Perhaps one of the things that Space Agencies are stuck with is the “It’s got to be big” thinking.  Cube-sats, and now micro-sats are becoming more and more popular and effective.  Why not a cube-drone?  A small remotly piloted unit, with an arm and grasper, refuelable in the cabin.  Such a unit could be programmed for specific tasks quickly, such as wrapping a module with the “Water Wrap”.

Imagine the value of such small drones in the market place … even the ability of a small swarm for the purpose of not only inspection of the craft, but broadcasting activities outside the craft; even space filming!

Sleeper Module – Transporting larger numbers of humans to the Martian surface, requires us to reconsider the “tried-and-true” methodology of NASA and her sister organizations and look beyond the earthbound thinking used therein. Neither the 4-person SLS/Orion craft or 7-person Dragon afford sufficient materiel nor manpower to establish a permanent settlement at Mars.

October 2014 saw the publication on CNN of an article describing a Hibernation Space Ship proposal.  Yet this proposal still falls short of the agressiveness needed in order to have staying power once we arrive at the destination.  In my post Sleeper Ship, I describe how current technology could be used judiciously to provide secure, reduced resource passage for nearly 100 persons to Mars.  Using the foundation of technology presented in the CNN article, but expanding it to build a stronger, initial beachhead

In this way, we take advantage of the business principle of volume pricing in the transport of people over the larger distance, much like the airlines reduce fares by transporting over 100 people per flight. If the Saturn 5, or SLS, or Falcon Heavy are only big enough to send 3 to 7 people to Mars … how big would a rocket need to be to send 100 there?  The numbers are staggering.  Far greater than any business would even consider.  And then there are the issues of resources:  air, water, and food.