Beyond Earth: Outpost vs Colonies.
Recently a speaker, on a ForaTV discussion, pointed out that the current one-way mission to mars that private companies are planning for 2018 will be hardly a martian Colony, it will be an outpost. In an outpost, such as the Antarctic research base, people live there but nothing is made there. Everything that keeps them alive comes from warmer areas. On mars other than some 3-D printed repair parts from martian rock, and the plants and insects for food, the outpost will be completely dependant on long term unmanned deliveries from Earth.
The discussion got me thinking, so what technology will be required for a true colony? What will be required is a replicatable infrastructure on the planet to can be used to duplicate itself over and over again to achieve all of the inhabitant’s needs. Until that happens, shipping anything will be too expensive to allow the people to live with comforts anywhere close to that of earth. I calculated that 8 essential modules will be required to make a colony in the future. The overhead for sending these will be massive, and they may require quite a few trips for each module but once they are operational and working in tandem, they will be capable of replicating and never require that level of tech to be sent through space again.
So here are the list of modules we will need
1) First and foremost will be a gas plant. The gas plant, which is used on earth will collect atmospheric gases freeze then, separating them based on temperature levels where varying gases convert to liquids. On mars where it gets cold enough to turn CO2 into dry ice at night, it may be a perfect time to collect gases. While growing plants will convert most CO2 in martian air into breathable oxygen, we will need purified gases for the other modules.
The second module will be an algae bioreactor plant that will take sunlight and produce many different things from sunlight and CO2 in the martian air. Algae will produce many chemicals and many nutrients as well as oxygen. That algae will fix the carbon in the air into biomass that can be converted into plastics. Any chemical that the algae can’t produce will be created by way of number.
The biochemical microbial plant
This plant will use nutrients produced by the algae and convert them into any chemical they need via genetically modified yeasts and bacteria. With these, they will be able to produce medicines, chemical solvents, and basically any chemical they desire.
The synthetic material plant. This plant will convert biomass from algae using chemicals made in the biochemical plant into any plastic or synthetic material one could want. Each one of these modules will be as compact and minimalistic as possible for transport with as limited of specialized output as possible, but once they start replicating they can make much larger modules and receive blueprints and recipes digitally from earth. No space travel required.
Mining robot group
This module will mine, prospect and collect metals and rocks from mars that can be processed later. At first their progress will be small as they will be tiny but as they collect enough, the robots can be built bigger and bigger. Thanks to geological satellites circling Mars, GIS imaging will help these robots to easily prospect for materials needed.
Much like early earth before we started to use metals and minerals, mars has a lot of important minerals and metals just sitting out on the surface, making deep mining unnecessary hopefully for a decade or so.
Once the robots get back with their finds, the minerals will have to be processed. Gas from the gas plant will be used for deep heating to process the materials. They may have a nanoprocessing system in them as well, though that may end up needing its own module. I did not place it as essential because the refinery should be able to do it, but engineers may decide its needs its own.
This module will take the refined materials and shape them using 3D printers, 3D cutters and other forms or processing. The machine shop will them finish and smooth the product and make modifications. This may also have to be split into 2 modules depending. A robotic assembly plant that can be built by the inhabitants will make their lives much easier once completed
But wait you ask, how is all of this powered?
That is what the final module will do.
An integrated circuit plant. This plant will print circuit boards as needed for computers and robots as new printers are beginning to show real promise in this field. It will also print microfluidic boards used to make Gene sequencers and bioanalyzers. And finally it will be able to print solar panels that will power all of their needs. The factory will also be able to build wind turbines. Initially Earth will have to send the bare basic number of solar panels to let the plant work at minimum operation. Building more solar panels and turbines will be their initial top task to allow more and more output that will rise exponentially over time. Printed batteries are becoming more and more viable as well these days for down time storage.
Once the plant is at full capacity and they have built vehicles to transport farther, the next phase of their mission will be to build an exact duplicate plant, because until they have more than one they are still dependant on the earth in case a critical part breaks. Once they have replicated each of these modules once or twice they will be able to then call themselves an independent colony. They will still exchange science research with each other and the Martian colony will provide extremely valuable science and experiments that would be impossible on earth. They can set up a space elevator for cheap space travel as the gravity is 1/3rd that of earth. All transport from the Earth will be for people, luxury items and small animals. It will be the first human colony that starts out with solid high tech science, as opposed to one that starts living off nature and maturing into science.
ForaTV’s Colony talk