Large scale - massive payload Mars Operation need a LEO Fuel depot - this will be likely based on a Cargo Starship
Time to test the first generation of water extraction tech.
A dozen of these drones could be deployed from a single Starship
Now in the field, tested and being produced at 1200 a year ... the bus and systems are already being forked to make sats for SDA image credit: SpaceX
If you can get 50cm resolution out these cubesats then you can package these inside a Starlink. Sensors on Starlinks are now being awarded contracts by the DoD image credit: Planet
The NASA Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC), now in testing, can enable a much smaller and lower power "GPS" for Mars use ... info link
Starlink laser interconnects (General Atomics) can be used to determine small variations in local gravity ... aiding in the search for underground water ... info link image credit: General Atomics
Used to power the kickstage that is fired at payload deployment. One is needed per set ... so three sets and three kickstages. Engines operational now on Crew Dragon ... but would need F9 like payload adapter replacing a larger Merlin Vac engine with SuperDraco
Small, inexpensive 100Mbps capable antennas that can put on Starship and various rovers
MarsLink based on Starlink
MarsLink is an optional capability. SpaceX does not need MarsLink to conduct early Mars operations ... but it could greatly improve the effectiveness of operations at a low cost. The location of the best water supply is key to any Mars colonization ... and an additional few hundred millions to create a better information infrastructure will probably be well worth the investment ...
NOTE: Concept validated by Elon Musk at Mars Convention Q&A!
MarsLink MPS 16 sats (inc backups) (7 tons with kick stage) at 5000 km (based on Starlink, DSAC, MRO type radios)
MarsLinks MPS (Mars Positioning System) would carry "GPS" like equipment based on the Deep Space Atomic Clock. It should provide 1 meter position resolution over all of Mars once calibrated by tracking stations on landed Starships. 16 sats should provide 100% "3 in view" coverage.
MarsLink (BroadBand & Sensor) 100 sats (inc backups) (37 tons with kickstage) at 1000 km (based on Starlink and ongoing DoD sensor additions work, MRO type radios)
Very close to generic Starlinks with some additional radiation coatings. They would enable 100Gbps comms everywhere on Mars ... enabling local 24x7 operations of highly distributed rovers operated by MarsLink AI (see below). 1000s of GB of daily data would be reduced on Mars to fit in much the much more restricted Mars to Earth communications link. They would connect to Earth via either MRO (gappy and only 8Mbps max), landed Starships with MRO type High Gain Antenna (only 8Mbps, but gapless) and/or MarsBridge Sats (up to 1 Gbps, gapless) if deployed. The sensors also provide gapless real-time sensor coverage toward the poles and coverage with 1-10 minute gaps toward the equator. 100 satellites should provide 100% coverage at a minimun line-of-sight of 30 degrees above the local horizontal. The number can be reduced to save costs ... opening up some gaps near the equator. Again, we expect some radiation losses so 100 satellites provides some gap filling potential toward the poles (where there will be more activity). Max distance from ground station to MarsLink = 1500 km.
MarsBridge ... 3 at 1000 km in Mars orbit ... 3 in Earth LEO (new satellite with some Starlink components, MRO type radios, LCRD)
The MarsBridge option would be a new satellite using some Starlink components, such as the solar array, pointers, ion thrusters ... with NASA tech scaled up from the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration. It would enable up to 1 Gbit comms between Earth and Mars 99% of the year.
MarsLink AI (requires MarsLink Comms to be a non-local service, based on Telsa FSD computers)
Essentially local Mars cloud computing (based on a cluster of Telsa FSD computers) hosted inside landed Starships connected by MarsLink Comms. Can be used for data reduction, analysis and autonomous driving and operations of MarsLink Comms connected rovers. 1000x the effective ability of Earth based computing with millisecond latency for agile rover driving and ops.
Value of these services to general Mars exploration:
These services would enable far more autonomous operations of an army of payloads, sensors and rovers we should expect in the 2020s as Starship drops the cost of Mass-On-Mars to under $1M/ton up to 100 tons. One might imagine many customers using these low cost service vs needing custom solutions to greatly speed up the search for water, life and resources. SpaceX would sell these services to any machine operator that put a Starlink radio on their rover, sensor or spacecraft. A large body water will be so valuable to a Mars colony any prospecting productivity boost will be worth the investment.
Note that due to much higher radiation in Low Mars Orbit (LMO) than LEO MarsLinks may not last long. An approach is to refresh MarsLink every 2 year launch window with a single Cargo Starship just before a new Starship armada arrives.
1) Earth Launch
2) LEO 100% Fuel Depot Refuel
3) Depart for Mars ... 7 month trip
4) Place 3 MarsBridge satellites in LEO with a single Cargo Starship, test Starlink integration
5 see diagram below) Skim Mars atmosphere starting over the poles to put Cargo Starship first a in High Elliptical Polar Orbit, release MPS MarsLinks on a SuperDrago Kickstage. On the next skim deploy MarsLink Comms & MarsBridge on a SuperDrago Kickstage. After the third skim deploy MarsLinks Sensor on a SuperDrago Kickstage.
6) Land Starship on the 4th skim with MRO watching
7) Test broadband (with 4 - 24 minute speed of light delays) back to Earth
8) All satellites use on-board thrusters to slowly migrate into stable shells
MarsLink Deployment (orbit depictions are approximate)
SuperDraco kickstage deployment of MarsLink MPS set
MarsBridge Laser Comms in LMO (3 sats - MarsLink Comms integrated)
MarsBridge Laser Comms in LEO (3 sats - StarLink integrated)
Very high levels of Mars-to-Mars communication capacity to feed TBs of daily local data to local data reduction reduction computers is needed since communications to Earth is limited. MarsLink AI maybe able to drive rovers quickly without human intervention.
This mission will be mostly Cargo Starships deploying surface and flying rovers looking for the best flat ... stable landing locations within a few hundred meters of large glaciers.
Building bases near and inside Mars Glaciers offer a number of advantages vs other areas
1) Known easy access to huge quantities of pure water ice
2) Climate similar to interior Antarctic
3) Average ice temperature of -20F (fig 1, 2) ... low energy cost to heat voids inside glaciers to 40 - 50F
4) Summer surface temperatures averaging above freezing (fig 3) ... exploration time
5) Once inside the outer meter of a glacier your radiation exposure is Earth like
6) Very easy to create and populate large voids inside glaciers ... light pipes can add natural (dim) light
Fig 1) Best "Average" Temp Map - most Mars base locations target the orange to green boundary area
Fig 2) Many glaciers fall in areas where the average temp is -20 def F (warmer than the interior Antarctic)
Summer on Mars ... Northern Glacier regions have an average temp above freezing
Best Combination of Base Site Features
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protonilus_Mensae (47 deg North)
Links to info on Mars Water: 2016, 2020
1) Earth Launch
2) LEO 100% Fuel Depot Refuel
3) Depart for Mars ... 7 month trip? ... there may be a need for a non-optimum trajectory to maximize sunlight at the destination (if they are near polar)
4) Aerobrake in Mars atmosphere and land in a place and direction optimal for water drilling and solar power
5) Test MarsLink ... phone home
6) Open Cargo Bay Doors
7) Deploy Solar Arrays
8) Deploy Helicopter Drones, other rovers, test local relay on Starship to MarsLink ... have Earth operators set rover objectives
9) Start Liquid Methane Production Experiment using on-board water
10) Receive and process 10s of GB/hr using a cluster of Telsa FSD processors in a small radiation protected bay ... key findings are sent back to Earth for review with supporting data
11) Earth sends back new Rover taskings, repeat cycle
12) Contact MarsLink MPS ... begin MPS calibration
13) Train MarsLink AI for automated drone/rover operations
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