Mars 2026 (4+ Starships)

Bringing the MethLox Factory to Mars

Mars2026 Additional Widgets (link to Mars2024 Widgets)
MarsLink (deployed in 2024 mission)

MarsLink provides gapless positioning, timing, broadband communications, cloud computing and wide-field of view sensor services everywhere on the Mars surface.  With it's MarsBridge system it provides Gbit class comms between Earth and Mars

Construction Rovers

Needed to move components from Cargo Starship to specific locations on construction site

ROSA (Roll Out Solar Array)

Needed to move components from Cargo Starship to specific locations on construction site

Starship integrated MethLOX Factory

Key to SpaceX Mars plans. CO2 from the Martian atmosphere is combined with Martian water to create Liquid Methane. The same water is split and cooled to create LOX. Mars to Earth requires a DV of about 6 km/s ... and thus a complete refill of 1,200 mT of fuel for a Starship + payload mass of 200 mT total

Laydown Rover

Needed to accept rolls of ROSA from the Starship crane, mover them to a optimal location, roll then out and finally connect them to the preliminary power distribution system

Mars2026: 4+ Starships

If MarsLink has been deployed in 2024 and is working well, comms described below are backup options.

1

Mars Hab/Control Starship (MHCS)

Starship that pivots to a horizontal position, deploys solar arrays, high gain antenna (for Earth comms) and local "4G" type cell radios.  Allows for Earth control and monitoring of all local assets.
2

Mars Cargo Starship 1 (MCS1)

Mostly rolls of Solar Arrays, and a specialized "Laydown Rover" to deploy them to create 4 MW Solar Power Plant (SPP).  Uses MHCS for initial rover power recharge, and for comms.
3

Mars Cargo Starship 2 (MCS2)

Mostly ice collection, water processing machines and various rovers.  Uses interfaces connected to the SPP to recharge. 
4

MethLOX Factory Starship (MFS)

A self deploying, complete MethLOX factory that also captures N2 (to augment breathable base air), creates ethylene (local fuel) and polyethylene for future use.  Needs MHCS, SPP and water processing machinery to be up and running to operate.

MHCS: Mars Hab/Control Starship

The concept of the Starship "Pivot Hab" is to pre-build a hab inside the Cargo Bay and then drop the Starship onto it's top side after landing.  This allows for surface access without the need for the elevators, but more importantly it allows for the hab to be covered in Mars Soil to minimize radiation inside the hab.  The hab has a large 2m airlock to the outside and to a pair of Flexi-tunnels that can connect to connect to other Pivot Habs.  The Flexi-tunnels allow movement from Pivot Hab to Pivot Hab with only the light Crew Dragon type Space Suit.  It has a 500 m^2 high efficiency solar array topped by a High Gain Antenna that can communicate directly with Earth. In addition to the large 2 level hab, the now empty fuel tanks can be either used for water storage or additional pressurized living space after a simple conversion (by skilled crew after their arrival).  One of these is deployed in the 2026 mission (in unmanned mode) to prove the concept and to have one had ready to use as soon as the first crew arrives.  They will want radiation protection as soon as possible ... as well a change of scenery.  Outside cameras feed large OLED panels inside the had to give a feeling of the outdoors while being completely radiation protected.

Deployment:

The Starship lands specifically positioned to maximize solar power collection after solar array deployment.  At the moment of vertical landing the Long Legs (only on the "top" side" are pushed down, then nose thrusters tip the Starship with the top side down.  The fairing near the nose of the top side is ejected.  The hydraulics in the Long Legs allowed for a controlled laydown from the vertical position while assisted by landing thrusters on the nose and 20 m forward legs that contract the ground at at 45 deg, and then slowly retract to finish a slow, level motion to a level landing condition.  These legs are very similar to those on the Falcon 9 ... where all 4 legs have a mass of only 2 mT.  With a much larger center leg the total leg mass is about 4 mT in the pivot hab concept.

A node camera is deployed, as well as the Solar Array (which has cameras and sensors along the top) and High Gain Antenna.  Power production quickly tops off the hab's Telsa batteries.

A rover that stowed under the 2m Airlock is later dropped down the 2 m to the surface and then begins to gather Mars soil and push it over the center of the hab.

Note that the design has H20 electrolytic cells, O2 and H2 stores and fuel cells to create a backup long term power source during dust storms.

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Single MHCS (Laid Down, Uncovered)

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MHCS Partly Covered 

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MHCS "Pivot"

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MHCS Interior Space

Pivot Hab Technical Controversy

No, with about 10 mT of reinforcement it should hold up.  Consider the following:

First assume the Starship is un-pressurized
if the Starship skin is 4 mm thick (301 Stainless Steel)
circumf = 28.26 m area per meter slice = 28.26 m^2 volume of material per meter slice = .113 m^3 given density = 7.87 Mg/m^3 = 7870 Kg/m^3 -> 889 kg per meter slice (round up to 1 mT for tiles over 1/2)
given compressive strength (cs) =170 MPa
9m vertical support mass * grav_mars = cs * support cross section
support cross section = (mass * grav_mars)/cs support cross section = 1000 kg * 3.711 m/s² / (170,000,000 kg/ms^2) support cross section = .0218 m^2 support volume = 0.2 m^3
support mass (as a rod) = 1546 kg
support mass (as a tube) = 463 kg (70% lighter)
now assume that we are only supporting the top 1/2 support mass = 231 kg (at 1/2 of load) don't need this near tank edges or nose ... so maybe 30? support mass = 30 * 231 = 7 mT

if we assume the vertical cylinder is carrying 100% of the load of the top 1/2 where it is not near the tanks once on the surface you only cover with Mars soil those areas that are pressurized if pressurized at 1/2 bar you should be able to carry more than 5 mT per m^2 ... plenty for the Stainless and a meter deep covering of Mars soil.

While one suspects Mr Musk did not get the full argument one must factor this in.  The potential capability of 2 - 4x the pressurized radiation protected living and work space ... combined with unmanned auto deployment (in the short run) and no-mass added Mars crane later indicates that it a concept they needed more analysis.

MCS1: ROSA based 4MWh/day Solar Power Plant (SPP)

In 2026 solar power will still be the best option for MW scale power on Mars.  MW scale is needed for enough MethLOX production to fuel return Starships.

Advances in solar array performance are envisioned: a) near-term: 150–200 W/kg, b) mid- to far term: 200–250 W/kg.

And https://www.nasa.gov/smallsat-institute/sst-soa/power

Flexible and thin-film solar cells have an extremely thin layer of photovoltaic material placed on a substrate of glass or plastic. Traditional photovoltaic layers are around 350 microns thick, while thin-film solar cells use layers just one micron thick. This allows the cells to be flexible and lightweight and, because they use less raw material, are cheap to manufacture. In 2014, FirstSolar announced a flexible solar cell design with an efficiency of 20.4%, closing the gap on single-junction solar cells. Flexible solar cells designed specifically for space applications are available from United Solar and have an efficiency of 8% (in 2014) on 1 mil polymer giving them a specific power of 750-1100 Wkg-1. 

So say 1000 W/kg = 1KW/kg = 1 MW/1000 kg = 1 MW/MT = 100 MW/Starship ... on a 1 mil polymer.

So I imagine large 10 m x 100 m rolls of this inside a Starship (1,000 m^2 each) - about football field size

Say this can be packed so this is effectively 2-3 mil thick ... this creates a footprint in the cargo bay (in landed vertical orientation) of 2m x 2m = 4 m^2. Given that the bay has 50 m^2 of floorspace lets assume that packing will allow for 40 m^2 of space ... so it can easily carry 10 10 m x 100 m rolls ... maybe 15 with more optimal packing.

So at least 10,000 m^2 of these thin solar arrays can be packed in a Starship, maybe 15,000 m^2.

To figure out the mass per kg of these thin solar arrays ... if you get 8% efficiency (as stated above) you get 60W per m^2 on earth ... and the material provides about 1000W/kg

So that material is 0.06 kg/m^2 -> 6,000 kg per 10,000 m^2 (packed Starship bay)

Clearly Starship is volume vs mass constrained ... this material could be 2-3 times more dense and there should be no problem in launching it and working with it. Rollers, deployers and other needed equipment could add another 10-20 mT for this Mars Solar Powerplant. 

The solar flux onto a 30 deg tilted solar collector at 40 deg on Mars is at least 200W/m^2 over a 10 hours a day

If you get 20% efficiency (I assume the 8% will be 20% in 2024) its 40W/m^2

So an average of 400Wh/m^2 day per on Mars at mid-latitude, assuming no dust issues.

At 10,000 m^2 you have 4MWh per day ... At 15,000 m^2 you have 6MWh per day ...

For deployment one would need a "laydown" machine (LM) to accept rolls from the Starship and take them to a hillside pointed in the right direction, and roll them out (see below). Proximity of a hillside might be part of the base site criteria. The LM would need to also lay cable and connect them up to the core cylinders that contain the needed electronics. Small NASA heli-drones would come by and blow dust off if needed. We might go with 5m high rolls instead to reduce the size of the LM.

Why the first Mars power grids will be Low Voltage Direct Current (LVDC):

1) Mars power will be primarily multi-MW scale solar (DC) buffered by lithium-ion batteries (DC). There may be a backup MethLOX generator (fueled by stored MethLOX from the MethLOX factory) for long dust storms which will be AC. That AC -> DC conversion will likely be no more 93% efficient.

2) As a Mars colony distribution grid will likely be within a 3 - 4 km radius circle, AC's advantage of long distance transmission does not apply.

3) DC power cabling is more mass efficient than AC with Heavy Duty AWG 4: 0.2 kg/m, 200 kg/km. The power distribution system cables mass may be as low as 2 mT.

4) If needed, DC -> AC (97% efficient) conversion is more energy efficient than AC -> DC (87-93% efficient). Changes in DC voltage are very efficient at 99% (and the equipment does not appear to be large or heavy).

5) While DC -> DC power conversion equipment is more expensive per KW than AC -> AC, that price different won't be significant in the cost of a Mars colony. DC -> AC Inverters will be needed in edge equipment that does not have a good DC alternative, and at the MethLOX Factory to convert AC -> DC for emergency backup power during long dust storms (of durations that exceed the the capacity of the distributed battery network).

6) Using Tesla Powerpack 2 4HR (used in Power Grid application, Capacity: 210 kWh, Op Temp: −30 to 50 °C, Mass: 2,160 kg, Size: 218.5 cm × 82.2 cm × 130.8 cm provides 960 VDC 66 A 55 kW) the 2 mT battery mass looks like the main limitation. Assume 2100 kWh ... so 10 of these (20 mT total) distributed around colony. Note that batteries may be based placed within areas that are human occupied since the operation temperature is only as low as -30C, which is much higher that average Mars surface conditions.

7) It exists now: LVDC has already been adopted as a medium of distribution in many applications such as data centers and telecommunication power systems.* With the rise of residential solar power DC is becoming the most efficient choice even for the mixed DC/AC home.

8) More standards are emerging and lower cost equipment to meet them. Emerge Alliance, together with the partnership between Japan and South Korea’s governments, with academic institutes, and industrial groups, have also made a significant development on the standardization and technological development of DC-powered buildings and microgrids. So far, the standards for using DC with AC in hybrid settings in commercial buildings are established by the Emerge Alliance, which uses 48 V DC for low-power applications and 380 V DC for high power applications.* Note that 48 V, 220 V, and 380 V DC are the default voltage choices.

References:

* DC distribution for residential power networks—A framework to analyze the impact of voltage levels on energy efficiency: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352484719313757

Why DC cable is better than AC: https://www.zmscable.com/new/The-difference-between-DC-cable-and-AC-cable-in-power-cable

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Cargo Starship Unloading Solar Array Rolls

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Rolling out ROSA (Roll Out Solar Array) 5 m wide 100 m long rolls on a 35 degree slope ... facing toward the equator

MCS2: Ice collection and processing rovers and machines

The MethLOX factory will need 1-2 mT a day of pure liquid H2O to support Liquid Methane and LOX production.  This will create enough for 1 Starship return to Earth, as well as O2 for the base (for when the Crew arrives).  The Starship will also carry other supplies, equipment and rovers needed for human operations at the base.  It may carry additional components of power distribution and storage (Telsa Batteries) that could not fit on MCS1.

Machines:

- Ice field finding rovers (flying, ground)
- Icy soil drilling and digging rovers with on board water purification

MFS: MethLOX Factory Starship

The MFS is a fully integrated Liquid Methane, LOX, Liquid Nitrogen, Ethane and plastics factory and crygenic storage facility.  It can store nearly a Starship's worth of fuel and 100 mT of Ethylene for emergency power.  It is built to fully self deploying.

At the base is expect to be between 30 and 40 deg (N or S), the average temp at equinox is around 240 K -> -40C, maybe a 120 C average delta even greater at local summer.  This indicates the need of substantial layer of passive insulation with active cooling channels ... which could add 10 mT to the overall mass.

Link to MethLOX Factory video

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MethLOX Factory Starship (MFS) - back to sun ... sunshade deployed

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About 4% of Mars Atmosphere is N2 and Ar ... which can be used to moderate breathable air for crew and colonists.

More Detailed Mars2026 Mission Sequence

1) Cargo Starship 1 (CS1) Lands, opens cargo doors to collect solar energy
2) CS1: Deploys rovers ... finds best landing location for MethLOX Factory Starship (MFS) (lags 4 weeks behind)
3) CS1: Dozer rover preps landing site ... deploys beacons for precision landing
4) Solar power plant carrying Cargo Starship 2 (CS2) lands, lowers Laydown Machine, then starts to lower Solar array rolls for deployment
5) Over weeks the Solar power plant is rolled out, power lines positioned for MFS
6) MFS Lands ... opens Cargo Doors (which have radiators)
7) MFS: Surface level power cables dropped (MFS Power), connected by rover to solar power plant
8) MFS: Lowers icy soil collection rovers, icy soil collection starts, pure H20 is brought to MFS and pumped up
9) MFS: Water, Liquid Methane, LOX, O2, N2 production starts
10) Pivot Hab Starship(s) lands, ejects fairing, pivots to lay down position, deploys solar arrays


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