Saturday, April 19, 2014

Have you become jaded?

A while ago I presented a new plan for financing the colonization of mars.

People that know me might have dismissed it because it is very much like some of my old plans but that would ignore the significant difference this new plan contains. First let's get rid of some ridiculous arguments against it...
"the implication of your argument is that mars real estate will never be owned." One can only hope that by the time colonization of Mars becomes practical that we will be beyond ownership of material things...
Obviously, JamesG watched too much StarTrek or is the result of a good American education thanks to the progressive lefties that have taken over our school system for the last century. I refute this in my original post but don't feel the need here. Anybody that accepts this drivel doesn't have the brain cells to understand a rational argument.

The plan is simple and basic. We buy tickets with money held in trust. That's it. The rest is detail.

The people putting money into this trust are taking an adult risk that is mitigated by a number of factors. First is that the money is going into a trust. They call it a trust for a reason. Practically speaking, a trust is a company that hold money and property for others based on a written agreement. It's very common although our use of the trust might be considered new (or not.)

The trust then is the pivot of the plan. Money goes in. Money goes out.

Going in:

People are taking a risk that their deed is more than a novelty deed. That is certainly true. It is more than a novelty simply because of how the money going in will go out. It will pay for ventures that will enforce those property claims by the most solid historical basis, possession.

Going out:

This is the least controversial aspect. We're simply going to buy tickets. Those tickets contain all the profit motivation required to make it happen. The tickets for the first colonists will cost about twice that of all those that follow because additional supplies will be required to ensure the survival of the first group. All groups following will be supported by those that went before.

Who's going to sell those tickets? Anybody that wants the profit. That includes Elon Musk who has already announced a ticket price goal of $500k. My plan doesn't wait for Elon because we assume the ticket price to be over $250m per person at first. We expect it will soon be practical to put a dozen on mars for $4b with enough profit to provide incentive. When ticket prices come down that just means more people will have enough in their trust account to pay for these new lower prices.

In other words, anyone that thinks we are going to be able to go to mars someday has just been shown how it's paid for. You should be getting excited and on board rather than all the lack of enthusiasm you visionaries of the future are generating now.

If it makes you feel better tell everybody it's your plan.

All groups following will be supported by those that went before.

Why am I repeating myself? Because this is a very important aspect of the plan. Some object because they think those colonist will never be independent and will always require support from earth. Let's not argue. Let's say you're right (ok, I'm not going to argue. I'm not.) The new colonists will bring that earth support of things the colonists can not produce themselves (which does not include the fundamental requirement for life that they certainly can produce ISRU. We already know how they can do that.) It's the new colonists property which they can trade with the old for the support they need to get started on a new life. Win/win for everybody.

So who's going to establish this trust and get the ball rolling? I would think this would fit well with Mars Ones plans but there are others like space adventures that might take up the challenge. Mars One seems a good choice because media will be an important factor and they have a media agenda.

Update: There is a simple mitigation of the 'Chinese land grab' scenario. Part of the trust agreement can include an option for changing property from contested to uncontested should that scenario become a reality.

Update: To increase the odds of this being viable we can first select a few dozen colonists and limit sales to their land holdings. Once we reach a certain threshold we open up sales to all other holdings. Opening up other sales allows those to throw their support to others increasing their holdings to greater than $250m (or simply increasing it enough for current ticket prices whatever they may be.)

The trust contract would ensure all money is distributed based on reality on the date of disbursement or refunds based on other contingencies.

Check out Rand. Check out Uwingu.


C J said...

Let me start out by saying that I like your plan.

Would it be a high-risk class of investment? Yep, much like venture capital. There is risk... but guess what? In investment, it's often said "risk is your friend".

I recall reading about one of the tech startups that, although running at a loss for year after year, kept attracting investment. It had a name that had nothing to do with its business, and I thought it was nuts to be interested in a money loser like that... and the company blundered on, trying to sell books. Last I heard, it was still around; it's called Amazon, and they've branched out a bit. Oh, and it's making a profit these days, so I hear.

What will be a driver for Mars(one of them) IMHO is the exact same motive for people who often play in the venture capital markets; profit potential. This applies to many of the exploration and colony expeditions in history, too.

Mars. In many ways, it's much akin to Alaska a couple of centuries ago. Long term, it has potentials that we can no more envision than Sec. State Seward (Alaska was known as Seward's Folley when he arranged for the USA to purchase it) was able to envision Alaska's current economic underpinnings.

However, with Mars, we do know of some things that could yield profit. Tourism, of course, is an obvious one. Less obvious, though probably more profitable, is specialty manufacturing. For example, there is already a very large (many billions per year) demand for geosynchronous satellites, a market that will only grow. And here's the little know part; the true measure of space isn't distance, but delta/v, and using that measure (the only one that counts, especially costwise) the surface of Mars is one heck of a lot closer to Earth's GEO than the surface of Earth is. (Earth's surface to GEO is about 13.8 kps, all of which has to be propulsive. Mars surface to earth GEO is about (it varies a bit due to orbital timing) 7.7KPS, and you can get the last 1.3kps of that via aerocapture . So, the propulsive needs from Mars to Geo are about half of that from earth's surface, and that doesn't cut the propellent needed by half, it reduces it by a factor of four. That also makes Mars a far more attractive departure point for refueling missions to Geo.

The moon (at 4kps to Geo) would be better than MArs for this, except that the moon, so far as we know, is far poorer than Mars in heavy elements (which are needed in comsats). So, building comsats on Mars would be a very, very viable early industry, and due to the delta/v needs and ease of launch (far shallower grav well- SSTO is very easy on Mars) it becomes a high-profit-potential market. It's true that a few of the components (I'm thinking the CPU chips) would require an advanced tech base that wouldn't be available, but the size and mass of each chip is so low that you could ship several year's worth as just a couple of pounds.

The Delta/v savings apply to anything needed in Earth Orbit. Space station modules, for example.

Then there's the great known unknown; what we'll discover along the way; knowledge may be power, but it's also money, and many of the discoveries made on Mars will be profitable on Earth.

One potential obstacle to getting investors for Mars would be the timescale of return on investment; we're talking decades. Most investors aren't going to be interested in that long a timeframe, any more than they'd be interested in bankrolling an oilfield that's a decade and a half from pumping its first drop. But... they do the latter all the time, and without being locked in for the full term; they're called bonds. Why not apply the same to Mars? :)

ken_anthony said...

Yes, bonds have no mass making them a perfect mars export.

I don't see tourism as viable for now.

It's not just four times less fuel; it's ten times or more cheaper launch vehicles. Those parts that can't be made ISRU become valuable trade commodities for new colonists to bring with them.

I think people will be amazed at the level of trade possible in twenty years.

I'd invest in a locally manufactured mars launch vehicle company once established on mars. But most companies starting on mars will probably be branches of already existing companies on earth which actually represents a danger. Mars is going to need big businesses that are not so much involved on earth but able to compete.

C J said...

Tourism might be viable in the early days of a colony.

For example, what about tourism to ISS? ISS has a lot of barriers; it's government-owned and run (by two governments) and NASA hates the idea of tourists on ISS.

But there have already been seven paying space tourists on ISS, paying between 20 and 40 million per trip for an average stay of about 12 days, and one of them went twice.

So, in the case of Mars, my hunch is there are at least a few willing to pay, say, a billion, to be the first tourist on Mars.

It wouldn't be that hard to do. Yes, they and their supplies would basically replace one colonist for the trip to Mars, but with that kind of funding, it'd be more than worth it. And for the return trip, they'd be on a ship coming back mostly empty anyway.

Okay, granted, if the Mars One approach is the plan the colony uses (no ability to depart Mars) then, no, tourism won't be viable.

I think the only disagreement regarding Mars that you and I have is that issue; no ascent-capability for a Mars colony.
I do understand the reasoning for it, such as cost, but... I think it's unwise on a fiscal level. A Mars ascent-capable vehicle need not cost much to develop, nowhere near as much as is feared. And, it's a capability worth having from a fiscal perspective; tourism for one, material export for another. Ti name just one very early example; have you any idea how much research institutes would be willing to pay for Martian samples whose collection they could oversee and direct? Doing that requires an ascent capability.

I know we'll probably end up agreeing to disagree on this, but let me ask this; if a Mars ascent capability (with return to Earth) could be attained for, say, 50 million, would you think it worthwhile? Just two ISS-level paying tourist would pay for it, and it'd remove the biggest public-perception problem the Mars One concept has - the one-way mission. It'd also be an intrinsic route to early revenue sources (Mars samples, tourists,ISRU products such as water, and methane shipped to earth orbit for a lot less than sending them up from Earth, etc.) Those would be revenue streams that would come on line within a year of first landing, and in any fiscally-based venture, early revenue is important.

If you're willing to think about it, I could do a post outlining exactly how to attain a Mars an the cheap (including a design that I can prove will work) and how it could pay for itself via revenue creation.

CJ :)