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Martian Base Landing Site Tradeoffs

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For a college "Exploration of Space Environment" project, (my partner and) I need to discuss the potential tradeoffs of picking a particular landing site on Mars. More specifically:

  • What will we gain AND have to sacrifice from landing at this specific site.


For example, when it comes to landing along Mars' equator vs on one of its polar ice caps (yes, I have to specify which one), I'll have to consider:

  • Carrying my own water (and, therefore, more weight) vs converting the ice underneath
    • I'll still have to carry a backup supply, but an ice cap landing and utilization can lessen the amount I need to save specifically for the outpost
  • Keeping the return vehicle at an equatorial (or even inclined) orbit vs having to set a polar orbit.
    • As we all know, we save fuel if we launch our ascent vehicles in the same orbital plane as our target.
  • Regional temperature
    • Will determine how the base will be heated.
    • (For the stock game, I don't know anything about life support mods) KSP fails to address supporting kerbals in environments with low temperatures like those on Mars.
  • Sunlight (and radiation) exposure
    • More radiation protection = more weight = less delta-V
    • More sunlight = more solar power
  • Seismic activity
    • A region with lower seismic activity is preferable
  • Dust storm frequency


I know I'm simply asking for help on a college term paper (whose due date is probably extended due to the coronavirus), but this is also a great opportunity for us to discuss where we would start a Martian base. Feel free to offer your input on where we should put a base, and why. After all, the entire mission plan (base design, approach and departure strategy, surface ops) depends on it.

  • But be aware that, whatever landing spot we decide upon, we'll be sacrificing the advantages offered by other locations. We'll also have to design our base to compensate for lost advantages.
    • Which would ultimately determine how the entire mission would be conducted.
  • That's what engineering is about, exploring the gives-and-takes of our mission decisions.
    • We basically explore this concept every day in KSP, too.
      • adding fuel tanks will mean more delta-V, but also more weight to haul to LKO
      • using a lander engine with higher thrust may mean giving up delta-V


Any and all help is greatly appreciated. Thank you.



 I know that a similar question was previously asked in this forum, but that was five years ago. This thread is for possible landing sites based on what we know now.



P.S. Source links would be nice. I don't think my partner (let alone my professor) would want me to cite a forum post in the reference page.

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It makes everything easier. Any long-term activity requires a lot of water.
When the life is easier, you can drill more and gather more interesting samples.

If it's a small automatic rover, it's anyway better to study a place for the future crewed base.



Also, a border between biomes geological locations. A corner of three of them is even better. You can study several different geologies 3-in-1 without running across the planet.

A cliff wall. You can see vertical section of the geological layers and take samples from various epochs without a deep drilling, just with pickaxe and rope.

Ancient river or lake. You can collect sediments from various epochs.

A well-known place name, to beg for money for the "Ancient lake at the South of Nergal Valley" rather than for the "rock formation at ...° lat and ...° long".
T-shirts with "Nergal-1" expedition look better than with "...° lat ...° long"

So, a place next ot a cliff wall where 2-3 geological formations touch each other, next to a well-known and great-sounding toponym in the region rich with water ice according to the NASA maps.

Not in a circumpolar area if you use solar panels.
Or exactly there if you plan to spend a polar day there, then return to the orbital ship.

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Nilokeras Scopulus is a good bet scientifically. It's a cliff on the north edge of the Kasei Valles floodplain, and there's a spot that's sort of terraced where you could drive a rover up to the top of the cliff and discover the geologic situation of what happened there. I think that trip is about a 40 km drive.

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A good bet would be to park the return vessel at a Lagrange point, Eyes Turned Skyward style. It's a little bit more dV-intensive, and means a longer trip back to the return vehicle, but you can get to a Lagrange point from any point on the surface for roughly the same cost, letting you pick landing sites at will.

I would rule out the high mountains unless a specialized lander is developed, as beyond the roughness of the terrain, you also need to deal with how thin the Martian atmosphere is up there.

Seismic activity is likely a non-issue. Mars isn't 100% seismically dead, but it's not exactly prone to massive quakes.

Radiation protection is likely a matter of mission duration. Short-duration, you can get away with minimal shielding. Long-duration, and you're probably going to want to set up your base underground... which incidentally solves some dust-related problems.

Power: for a short-term mission, you can probably do solar panels + batteries (or regenerative fuel cells). Long-term, you can do either solar cells + wind turbines w/ storage, or go for a buried fission reactor. The latter also has the advantage of providing all the heat you could ever need.

Heating: insulate the floor, and with how thin the Martian atmosphere is, you're probably not going to need much heating. This will be less of a concern if a fission reactor is used for power.

A lot of choices depend on mission scope (30 day flags-and-footprints or multi-year base) and whether the local terrain is amenable to underground bases. I believe there's at least lunar proposals to use lava tubes to put the base in, though I don't know offhand if there are similar features on Mars one could exploit. Digging out your own cave is all fine and dandy until you try to figure out just how much Marsmoving equipment you're going to need for the job.

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