The NewMars Reference Mission
Yeah, why not...
This article exists not so much because we need another unrealized plan for a manned expedition to Mars, but because the the mathematical and technical content of the New Mars wiki could quickly become too dry and uninteresting without some framework to put it into perspective. Examples are needed to see how the various mathematical formula and scientific principles work out, as is some space to just practice technique for those who are interested.
Like many articles on this site, it is hoped that this will be primarily educational. Feel free to play a little, and don't be timid about your contribution. Don't just make design assumptions - make design decisions.
It is suggested that contributors to this article not obliterate all mention of the design decisions that prior posters have made with each edit, but leave some record of those alternative possibilities for comparison. And use the "talk" page for this article to discuss your justification for the change. Where possible, try to build on the work of people who have posted before you, and expand into other articles where necessary. It is further suggested that contributors to this article not only submit contributions they have analyzed by mathematical or graphical methods, but describe those methods. Send pictures, too. General methods of analysis should be referenced, and preferably described elsewhere in this wiki.
Because we’re requesting the mission as well as designing it, here’s where we specify the type of mission plan we would like us to give ourselves.
Work should begin using the following design decisions:
1) This shall be a manned expedition. This doesn’t preclude sending automated or robotic space probes to the landing area, or relying on them to accomplish major mission objectives. However, it does imply that many of the mission objectives will be accomplished by human beings. While this also implies certain minimum system requirements, it is not in itself a statement of either mission goals or final design. Life support systems are absolutely demanded to meet this specification; a pressurized rover is not.
2) This mission shall go to the planet Mars. We will reject flyby missions from consideration. An expedition to Phobos or Diemos would not be excluded, as long as it was consistent with the other mission specs.
3) This shall not be the first manned mission to Mars. Technically, this is logically inconsistent, because after the first mars mission, all subsequent missions will build on its technology and discoveries. However, this assumption is vital to the design process because it lightens the workload of exploration and scientific investigation. The crew of the New Mars Reference Mission won’t be going to Mars to explore the entire planet for all mankind, and therefore their task list can be mercifully short. Any logical conflict with the absence of a first mission can be resolved by some judicious design assumptions, or by copying methods from one of the multitude of other proposed missions.
4) This shall not be the last mission to Mars. Only mission objectives which admit the possibility of follow up expeditions will be considered. Mission goal sets in which all elements are both finite and without reference to future expeditions will be rejected from consideration. Preference will be given to mission objectives which directly support permanent settlement.
The Proposed Mission Objectives
The direct support of a settlement effort would most effectively meet the specifications listed above, and the larger the settlement, the better. That said, it is inadvisable to simply send hundreds of people into utterly unexplored territory, and the specification that ours is not the first expedition does not mean that the first expedition went where we’re going. A scouting mission should be sent first, to determine local conditions, prospect for and tap local resources, and prepare a suitable site for the colonists’ arrival.
Therefore, I propose that we design a scouting mission with these objectives:
1) Go to the site(s) selected for settlement. If more than one site is targeted, make a final selection and set up camp there.
2) Determine site conditions over the course of at least one Martian year, including probable living conditions and adaptations for settlement.
3) Prospect for local resources for ISRU, especially materials which can be used as supplies for life support.
4) Tap those local resources where possible, and begin stockpiling them for later use.
5) Begin other preparation for the arrival of settlers.
These objectives will be supported by the mission crews on Mars and Earth, including the operators of any unmanned spacecraft required.
It is interesting to note that none of these mission objectives necessitates a return trip to Earth. Finite mission duration is generally desirable, as is providing a means to return the crew to Earth if needed. These are desirable from the standpoint of having preparations complete when needed and for dealing with contingencies, and should not be neglected in our design. However, if successful, the crew can simply remain safely on the surface until the settlers arrive and join the settlement instead of returning. So long as material support from Earth continues indefinitely (a reasonable expectation for an incipient colony), crew turnover is not expressly required for a mission of this type.
“Return the crew safely to Earth,” will be part of our design requirements, but not our mission objectives.
The definition of “Other Preparations” depends on what the settlers intend to do upon arrival. The manpower limitations of a scouting mission will probably prohibit construction on the scale necessary to immediately accommodate an entire settlement. They must work within their resources, and should avoid tasks that are too ambitious to approach completion before the anticipated settlers arrive. For example, our crew should be capable of installing prefabricated components, but is unlikely to be most productive by building projects from scratch. The settlers are likely to send a large portion of their equipment ahead of them, and it may be within the capability of our scouting team to retrieve that equipment, but not to set it all up. An important consideration is that, where possible, the extravehicular activity of a small crew should be limited. The Martian environment is too harsh to rely on extended heavy labor. Any outdoor tasks that can’t be accomplished in a few hours should be few in number, widely spaced, and preferably omitted from the mission entirely.
The best choices for long duration mission tasks (months or more) are jobs that can be performed remotely, handled using tractors or other construction equipment, or done indoors. For example, initial preparation of certain types of Closed loop life support systems may require a year or more, but could be useful to a larger colony immediately upon arrival. The scout mission crew could begin that process after their site selection objectives were complete.
But these are simply examples, not design decisions. A more precise statement of “Other Preparations” can be had if the needs of the planned colony are better known. Therefore, we should also choose a colony design to support before continuing further.
Therefore, I propose that the New Mars Reference Mission support the Mars Homestead Project.
The Mars Homestead Project is an existing design proposal for a Martian Colony. Though in flux, it is a framework which can provide us with essential guidelines, including site selection, materials to prospect for, and other preparatory tasks.