Energy is a critical limiting factor in plans to develop a base on Mars into a manufacturing facility that can expand into a self-sufficient colony. It limits how much subsurface ice can be melted and processed, how many structural bricks can be baked, how much iron and glass can be smelted, and critically, how much CO2 and water can be processed into rocket fuel, plastics, and lubricants. The extreme cold also means that many types of equipment left outside will need to be heated to keep them operational. Importing power generation systems from earth would be costly for the organization sponsoring the base, and would limit what the colonists could do in terms of growing their industry during the 18 month periods between launch windows. Additionally, unexpected failure of power generation systems that cannot be replaced on-site would put the colony in danger, or at least drastically slow down its industrial growth.
Using resources that are relatively simple to refine and readily available on Mars, like iron, glass, and polyethylene, what energy generation systems could be mass-produced by martian colonists with minimal use of materials imported from earth?
The book “Mars: Prospective Energy and Material Resources” by Vlorel Badescu, which I read a year or so ago, gives several options, some more realistic than others. Two that stand out from a simplicity of manufacturing perspective are wind turbines and solar-thermal generators. (Yes, wind power is possible on mars, it’s because of the higher density of CO2 and the higher wind speeds)
How would you go about designing and manufacturing these systems, or can you think of an alternative?
I’m thinking that this could turn into a project that someone could build in their backyard at fairly low cost, which would demonstrate a piece of space technology that would be very useful to base designers and mission planners.