My plan for Mars started a few years ago. Since initial thinking I have had some improvements mainly highly positive in the plan.
I’ve reduced the weight of mass needed to bootstrap humanity
I initially projected 22 million pounds of material would have to be lifted in up to 1000 missions. I improved this to 15 million pounds in 50 missions.
Some of this is the result of larger rockets to lift material into space. The development of the block 5 and later this year and next the BFR rocket mean that we can lift more into space.
Sending Colonists earlier
I am open to the idea that we send colonists earlier than I originally thought. It would be a small number but we could also live without them.
Initial humans could help speed up the discovery of problems and insuring rapid learning.
One of the big concerns is the autonomous nature of everything. Humans could reduce the complexity. I would not have humans doing any actual construction of anything. The human role is simply to observe, fix and correct, learn how the robots are doing and help facilitate upgrade of programming etc.
In order to scale any colony it will be necessary to depend on these robots so the goal will be to make the robots reliable and smart not to enable humans to do work.
I could see 5 humans arriving after 2030 or 5 years after the first missions start.
These first colonists would be living in truly difficult situations. There would be enhanced risks. We might not have all the radiation protection enabled. The habitat sizes would be tiny compared to eventual habitats. We would bring most of the resources needed for them so there would be no requirement initially they live off the planet like the rest of the colonists.
These colonists would be there for a long time (5 years) before conditions improve substantially.
The Space Station idea
Originally I imagined we would build another space station that rotated and get rid of the ISS. This may still be doable, longer term. However, it wouldn’t be necessary initially.
I now believe the best plan involves selling the ISS to Elon Musk’s SpaceX and paying them to maintain the station. They would also upgrade the station to support the activities necessary to coordinate and deliver the material to Mars.
The space station would require significant hardening and improvements to act as this manufacturing or distribution hub. I expect we will need to double, triple, maybe quadruple the power of the ISS. Significant new solar panels and electrical as well as communication improvements would be necessary.
The station now is viable for up to 10 people. This would have to be doubled at least initially. Extensive increases in habitat size as well as robotsc arms and in space warehouses for storing materials would be needed. This could all be done by SpaceX under NASA direction and funding.
I still think an Ion tug for transportation to Mars from LEO would be ideal. Given that we have 100 missions still to run to tranport materials over time and eventually colonists having a well used reliable reusable tug would be equivalent to the reusable Falcon. Ion rockets have many advantages.
I have changed how the tug works. The tug now does not slow down too much but is met by the Dragon-like storage capsules that will land on Mars.
My first mission to Mars would deposit the GPS system to be used extensively to create a “Google Mars” type experience. We also build landing pads and using the GPS map out routes as we drive them around the planet so that we can travel much faster between sites.
Increasing the size of the colony
It is hard to predict how technology will evolve but I already feel more and more confident we could support and build a bigger colony than the 800 or so by 2100 I have planned. I am quite confident (working on the numbers still) that we can build a colony of closer to 2000 people in the next 80 years. This allows significantly more growth of the emigration rate from the Earth. I am sure over time if it is found viable that the size of the colony could grow exponentially.
New Power Sources
I always assumed Solar would be the main power source on Mars but after looking at a number of things I believe that we will be able to bring nuclear reactors like the “Kilopower” reactor that NASA is prototyping. Nuclear power would give the colony a sustained uninterruptible power supply that would last for 10-40 years and provide significant concentrated energy at minimal weight and reduce the complexity of the first missions.
I’m not abandoning solar entirely but Nuclear combined with methane which is readily and plentifully available on Mars would be more reliable and more efficient way to produce the energy needs. We will have to make Methane anyway for refueling the Dragon like supply vehicle landers.
The new power sources both allow reduction in mass and better power. We still need the battery system.
Bandwidth to the Earth and back
I have focused a little on the Electronics, data communication and storage requirements and processing. We need to establish a 100MB/sec network to the Earth rapidly. We need such high speed networking because of the prodigious data collected by all the IOT devices but also the high resolution 4K VR 360 cameras located on many rovers and devices.
We will need massive data storage and processing equivalent to many data centers today.
I consider all this critical because the delivery of the Google Mars expeirence will be crucial to building public support for the program. The ability to put yourself on Mars and move around like the rovers and explore Mars will be very compelling much more than hearing some idiot walking around on the planet will. So, being able to deliver these massive files as well as log files, telemetry from thousands of devices will put high processing and communications needs on the project.
Farming still one of the most challenging aspects
Farming requires prodigious space and most of this must be maintained to virtually human level existence early.
I also expect to have animals on Mars we bring with us. These will require a lot of support similar to humans so proving our that we can grow plants efficiently, if we can use martian soil, how to create the structures for farming, storing the results, planting, harvesting, watering. It’s complex. Lots of difficult parts.
Within 10 years of our first mission we need to have worked a lot of this out. We need to know how to grow plants, how to supply everything. What is the best way to build greenhouses and dealing with failed crops and figuring out how to make it work is challenging and must be accomplished before longer term colonization can begin.
Use of Bombs
I guess there is a tendency to avoid thinking about some simple ways that have worked before to accomplish things on a foreign world. It has occurred to me that using simple explosives may be a viable way to accelerate mining and construction of habitats. We would still need special bulldozers and mars moving equipment and trucks of various types but simply coming places to do the first excavation may simplify building lots of structure cheap and fast.