United Arab Emirates Has a Plan to Colonize Mars with 600,000 People in 100 Years

Artist's concept for a possible colony on Mars, which the United Arab Emirates indicated it is committed to building by 2117. Credit: Ville Ericsson

Elon Musk has been rather outspoken in recent years about his plan to create a human settlement on Mars. Stressing the need for a “backup location” for humanity, he has dedicated his company (SpaceX) to the creation of a reusable spacecraft (aka. the Interplanetary Transport System) that in the coming decades will be able to transport one-hundred people at a time to Mars.

In addition to Musk, Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp has also expressed an interest in creating a permanent settlement on Mars. In 2012, he founded MarsOne with the intent of developing the necessary expertise to mount one-way trips to the Red Planet by 2032. And according to an announcement from the government of Dubai, it seems they aren’t the only ones looking to colonize the Red Planet.

The announcement came on February 14th, 2017, during the 5th World Government Summit – which was held this year in Dubai. In the midst of presentations by notaries like Ban-Ki-Moon, Elon Musk, and Barack Obama, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan shared their country’s vision of putting 600,000 humans on the Red Planet by the next century – known as the “Mars 2117 Project”.

In the course of his speech, Sheikh Mohammed emphasized the UAEs commitment to space sciences and its desire to accomplish one of the longest-held dreams of humanity:

“Human ambitions have no limits, and whoever looks into the scientific breakthroughs in the current century believes that human abilities can realize the most important human dream. The new project is a seed that we plant today, and we expect future generations to reap the benefits, driven by its passion to learn to unveil a new knowledge. The landing of people on other planets has been a longtime dream for humans. Our aim is that the UAE will spearhead international efforts to make this dream a reality.”

As growing investors in the field of space research, Sheikh Mohammed indicated that this project will accelerate the UAE’s commitment in this regard. Recent accomplishments by the Emirati space program include the successful deployment of the UAE’s first nanosatellite – Nayif-1 – which was launched a day after the Mars 2117 announcement (Feb. 15th, 2017).

This nanosatellite was the result of collaborative work between the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) and the American University of Sharjah (AUS). Its intended purpose is to provide opportunities and hands-on experience for Emirati engineering students, as well as developing expertise in the designing, building, testing and operating of nanosatellites.

And then there’s the Hope Spacecraft, a project which was commissioned in 2015 by the Emirates Mars Mission. This project calls for the creation of a compact, hexagonal spacecraft that will reach the Red planet by 2021 and spend the next two years studying its atmosphere and weather. Not only is this mission designed to provide the first truly global picture of the Martian atmosphere, it will also be the first orbiter deployed by an Arab country.

Meanwhile, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed – the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and the Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces – said that the objective of the project is to develop the skills and capacities of the UAE’s space program. He also indicates that the project will benefit research institutions and advance the fields of transportation, energy and food production here on Earth.

“The Mars 2117 Project is a long term project, where our first objective is to develop our educational system so our sons will be able to lead scientific research across the various sectors,” he said. “The UAE became part of a global scientific drive to explore space, and we hope to serve humanity through this project.”

Elements of the project were showcased at the Summit by a team of Emirati engineers, scientists and researchers – which included a concept for a human city that would be built by robots. It also showcased aspects of the inhabitants’ lifestyle, like the transportation they would use, how they would generate power, how they would grow food, the infrastructure they would build, and the materials that would be used to construct the colony.

An artist's illustration of a Mars settlement. Image: Bryan Versteeg/MarsOne
An artist’s illustration of an early Mars settlement. Credit: Bryan Versteeg/MarsOne

Given the long-term nature of this project, it will be broken down into multiple phases that will take place over the next few decades. Phase One will focus on preparing the scientists who will attempt to address all the challenges and concerns of sending human beings on a one-way trip to Mars. At the same time, the project calls for the creation of an Emiratis science team that will work with the international scientific community to speed up the research efforts.

Particular areas of concern will include creating spacecraft that are fast enough to ferry people to and from Earth in a respectable time frame. Then there’s the task of creating a working model of what the settlement will look like, and how the needs of its inhabitants will be met. Naturally, this will include methods for growing food and seeing to the health, safety, transportation, and energy needs of the colonists.

In the future, the UAE also anticipates that uncrewed missions will be mounted to explore the surface of Mars and locate a possible site for the future colony. In short, they are not only joining the “Mars or Bust” club, but also the international community of space explorers.

Further Reading: Government of Dubai

Mars Colony Will Have To Wait, Says NASA Scientists

Concept for NASA Design Reference Mission Architecture 5.0 (2009). Credit: NASA

Establishing a human settlement on Mars has been the fevered dream of space agencies for some time. Long before NASA announced its “Journey to Mars” – a plan that outlined the steps that need to be taken to mount a manned mission by the 2030s – the agency’s was planning how a crewed mission could lead to the establishing of stations on the planet’s surface. And it seems that in the coming decades, this could finally become a reality.

But when it comes to establishing a permanent colony – another point of interest when it comes to Mars missions – the coming decades might be a bit too soon. Such was the message during a recent colloquium hosted by NASA’s Future In-Space Operations (FISO) working group. Titled “Selecting a Landing Site for Humans on Mars”, this presentation set out the goals for NASA’s manned mission in the coming decades.

Continue reading “Mars Colony Will Have To Wait, Says NASA Scientists”

Mars One Dustup: Founder Says Mission Won’t Fail As MIT Study Predicts

Artist's conception of Mars One human settlement. Credit: Mars One/Brian Versteeg

How possible is it to land humans on Mars? And can Mars One, the organization proposing to start with sending four astronauts one way, capable of doing it by 2025 as it promises?

A new study says that the Mars One concept could fail on several points: oxygen levels could skyrocket unsafely. Using the local resources to generate habitability is unproven. The technology is expensive. But the founder of Mars One says the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) student study is based on the wrong assumptions.

“It’s based on technology available on the ISS [International Space Station],” said Bas Landorp in an interview with Universe Today. “So you end up with a completely different Mars mission than Mars One. So their analysis has nothing to do with our mission.”

The mission has sparked a debate about sending humans on a trip with no promise for a return, but thousands of applicants vied for the chance to do it. After two cuts, the interim shortlist is now at 700 people. Those folks are awaiting interviews (more news is coming shortly, Landorp says) and no date has yet been announced for the next “cut.”

ISRO's Mars Orbiter Mission captures spectacular portrait of the Red Planet and swirling dust storms with the on-board Mars Color Camera from an altitude of 74500 km on Sept. 28, 2014.  Credit: ISRO
ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission captures spectacular portrait of the Red Planet and swirling dust storms with the on-board Mars Color Camera from an altitude of 74500 km on Sept. 28, 2014. Credit: ISRO

A couple of weeks ago, MIT students presented a technical feasibility analysis of Mars One at the International Astronautical Congress in Toronto, Canada. The study is 35 pages long, so we recommend you read it to get the whole picture. The students’ main concerns are that crops (if they are responsible for 100% of the food) would send oxygen levels to unsafe margins, with no way to remove it. There are concerns with how well the in-situ resource utilization (using the resources on Mars to live off of) would perform. And the mission would cost $4.5 billion at a minimum — for the first crew only.

Cost: To get to Mars, the students say it will cost $4.5 billion and take 15 Falcon Heavy launches (a proposed next-generation rocket from SpaceX). Landorp says he can do it for $1.625 billion (since he doesn’t require constant Earth resupply) and as few as 13 launches (assuming $125 million per launch, a figure Landrop says is from SpaceX) by taking advantage of a few quirks of physics. If Mars One chooses a landing site that is four kilometers (2.5 miles) below the average Martian surface height, they will have both a thicker atmosphere and more time to land the payloads than, say, the Curiosity rover that landed about two kilometers (1.24 miles) above the average surface height. Mars One’s numbers show they could carry a payload of 2,500 kilograms (5,512 pounds) per mission, which they say is well within reach of what spacecraft can do today. The 13 launches would be divided into 11 robotic launches to send equipment to the surface, and two for humans (one to head to Earth orbit for assembly, and the other for the colonists to head to the in-orbit spacecraft and fly to Mars. The assembly crew would then fly back to Earth on the launch vehicle.)

Life support: While many of the technologies planned for use in life support are similar to those on the ISS — such as a trace gas system for air revitalization — Landorp says there will be some crucial differences. They are in talks with Paragon Space Systems Corp. (which describes itself as an environmental control firm for extreme environments, and whose customers include NASA and Bigelow.) As for the unsafe oxygen levels, Landorp points out there are plenty of oxygen removal systems available and that are used in hospitals and militaries. All that is needed is more testing in space. Landorp also points out these systems will be tested for two years robotically before humans land. “If that is not successful, then obviously we will not send humans,” he said.

The proposed Falcon Heavy rocket. Credit: SpaceX
The proposed Falcon Heavy rocket. Credit: SpaceX

In-situ resource utilization: Landorp acknowledges this requires more study, but says the robotic missions will be an important precursor for the human landings. Technologies needing to be developed will include nitrogen extraction from the Martian atmosphere. Oxygen production from water is well-studied in space, but water from the Martian surface (through vaporizing water in the soil) will require more work.

Another concern raised in media from time to time is where the money is coming from to fund Mars One. Landorp says right now funds are flowing from private investors. Mars One representatives are also in serious talks with a United Kingdom-based listed investment fund willing to finance the mission. In the long run, Landorp is confident money will come from broadcast deals similar to what partially fund the Olympics and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) competitions. Associated sponsorships would also help. But these won’t kick in until the colonists launch and land, since that’s when the world’s eyeballs will be on the mission.

Another stream of revenue, which may take five to seven years to kick in, will be intellectual property deals Mars One one representatives are working on closing now with potential suppliers, such as Lockheed Martin and Paragon. These agreements, should they go through as planned, would give Mars One a share of future revenue from any technologies flowing from the IP. “In the short term it’s not that interesting, it takes time to mature, but in the long term that will be interesting,” Landorp said.