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The Ceres Plan

 

 The Mars Society

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Asteroids (from NinePlanets)

Ceres discussion

Deep Space One

Dawn Mission

Re: the colonization of the Moon and Mars... one sticking point in grandoise plans for colonization of extra-terrestrial worlds is the little matter of cost.

One tempting way around this is to leverage the future value of land to try to fund the present. For example, Mars has about 35 billion acres on it. If this could be sold at an average of $100/acre, we'd be looking at 3.5 trillion dollars - more than enough to finance several manned missions.

But - in order for land to be sold, someone has to own it - and no one currently owns any part of Mars. [No one currently ownes any part of the Moon either, but so far that hasn't stopped several companies from selling pieces of it!]

Mars is too important for us to get wrong, and the Moon may already have ownership under dispute (not question, dispute!). We could instead start practicing with something less important; the asteroids leap to mind.

Ceres - the largest asteroid in the main belt - is about 600 miles in diameter, and has a surface area of four million square miles, or over two and a half billion acres. If this land were sold at $30/acre, we'd have over 20 billion dollars - easily enough to fund a Ceres Orbiter mission, similar to Mars Global Surveyor, that would go in polar orbit around Ceres and eventually produce hi-res coutour maps of the entire surface.

If the Ceres orbiter were contracted out on a bid basis, and payment was made after a successful trip - we'd be paying only for results. We could contract for 2 Ceres orbiters, at 1.5 billion each.

I'd like to see a next step of a Ceres tether, allowing us to put things from an Earth->Ceres trajectory to the surface without rocket propellant..


Obviously, the hard part would be getting the funding and land ownership model right. Here are the steps we need:

  • Get agreement from USA, ESA, Russia, China, India, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and maybe other countries (Canada? Brazil?South Korea? etc?) that the land on Ceres is ownable, and currently under control of the Ceres Land Authority (CLA) - a multinational public-interest group chartered with brokering the sale of the land. The signatories need to agree to the ownership and agree not to recognize or allow business from/with any group that violates the ownership rights.
  • The CLA offers the land for sale, skimming a percent off the top for expenses. The bulk of the revenue is placed in a publically-visible fund, and when the amount in the account exceeds the cost of the current highest-priority Ceres mission, the mission is funded on a bid/cash basis, and is awarded after a successful trip
  • Up to 30% of the money in the CLA fund could be used as incentives to various governments initially reluctant to sign the treaty. This should be an easy sell - the hard part will be getting the USA, ESA, Russia, and China on board. Once they are - we say "Hey - would you like some free money?" to any other country we'd like to have on the list.
  • Maximum of <insert small limit here - say 1000 acres> may be owned by any one country. Once all the land is sold, acres may be bought and sold on the free market, through the CLA, with the CLA skimming 2% for every transaction.
  • Maximum of 1000 acres may be owned by any one person. We want many land-owners, not few.

Now, the CLA divides Ceres up into acre-sized plots, creates a ownership registry, creates the owner $$$ fund, and starts business.

We could say that 20% of Ceres is non-ownable. If a colonization misson happens, a region of several hundred acres centered around the First Landing site automatically becomes part of this 20%, with displaced landowners getting title to new land on a 2:1 basis.

If this is successful on Ceres, we could adopt a similar scheme for the Moon and Mars - two much more important destinations. If we are successful in getting the major spacefaring nations to agree to a private land ownership treaty, we could pull the same trick as we used with Ceres.

 


Being There

Ceres is a *long* trip - roughly halfway to Jupiter. With current (read: lame) chemical rocket technology, it would be about a 12 - 18 month trip - maybe a bit shorter if we can use Mars to slingshot.

But - chemical propulsion is only one possibility. We could use an Ion Drive. This is proven technology, first used on NASA's successful Deep Space One mission. NASA has now had an Ion engine running continuously on a test bed for 5 years, with no problems.

The great thing about an Ion Drive is that they're continuous-thrust. If an Ion Drive spaceship were capable of even .001g acceleration (that is, one thousandth of the acceleration due to gravity near the surface of Earth), Ceres becomes an easy 6 month trip. If such a ship were capable of as much as .003g, now it becomes reasonable to discuss manned exploration of the Saturn system, since we could fly there in < 6 months.

One problem would be landing the ship on Ceres. The gravitational pull of Ceres is roughly .03g (see below), so such a ship could not be landed without crashing. So, if it were to land (which you'd want on a colonization mission), it would need something like chemical retro-rockets to do so.

Currently, an acceleration of .001g is far beyond what has been demonstrated. Acceleration data for DS1 are scarce, but one mention I found implies an acceleration of 7E-9g. If this is the case, I would give high funding priority to development of a crewed vehicle capable of an acceleration of .001g with an Ion drive. We "just" need to improve current propulsion systems by a factor of a million - <sarcasm> how hard could *that* be? </sarcasm>


Living on Ceres

Eventually, Ceres will be colonized. It is even possible this could be kick-started with a land model such as the above.

The surface gravity on Ceres is low, about 1/5 of the Moon, or roughly 1/30 of what we're used to on Earth. We don't know if this has long-term negative effects. If it does, inhabitants of Ceres may have to spend a significant fraction of time in a centrifuge.

The day is just over 9 hours, so we'd probably adapt to a 27+ hour sleep/wake schedule, with three Ceres days per cycle. This would take a little getting used to - though it should be possible - but like low-gravity adaptation, we have precious little data regarding human adaptability to non-24 hour days..

With gravity about 1/30th of Earth, we should be able to jump 30 times higher. Athletes on Earth can jump as high as 3 feet (that is, they can raise their center of mass 3 feet) - on Ceres, they really could leap tall buildings in a single bound... This would change human exploration significantly - imagine being able to easily scale a vertical cliff with one hand alone, or stepping into a 100-foot hole, jumping over a 70-foot rock, doing a deca-backflip, or lifting a 1500kg rock! The gravity would be negligible - more like zero-G with a downward drift.

OK, our abilities would be hampered by the requisite spacesuit, but still, we would be supermen on Ceres. And, watching Ceres basketball would be a blast.

Ceres is far enough away that the first manned mission there may well be a colonization mission, due to the time and re-adaptation of return.


Financing a Life

It seems that Ceres has a few major assets to sell:

1) The remaining 20% of the land, if the landowners choose.

2) The chapters of the book of Homo Ceres. If events were filmed on Ceres, it would make a fascinating 1-hour-a-week show. Keep the editing on Ceres. Perhaps revenue from this could be used to fund resupply missions on a regular basis.

3) Ceres trinkets. If we built a transport railgun on Ceres, we could send pieces of Ceres rocks to Earth. The Pet Rock of the 21st century...

4) Licensing fees. University of Ceres sweats, T-shirts, "The Official Breakfast Cereal of Ceres", pens, toys, games, calendars, etc. Heck, we could bring back Space Food Sticks!