It's great when the Space Review has an article agreeable to this blog.
it would be unfair to compare the 2009 scenario with what could be envisioned nowUnfair perhaps, but I envisioned and wrote about it with numerous revisions as new information has become available.
It took me many hours of careful reading to even figure out which vehicle the astronauts were supposed to use to land on Mars.Being obtuse is a bug they consider a feature. You and I are lessor mortals, don't you know?
mission design was intended to use nuclear thermal propulsionIntelligently using what we already have would thwart their hidden agenda.
John Strickland does a great job of showing what a white elephant the Mars Design Reference Architecture 5.0 represents. What's the right way?
I see departing from LEO or a Lagrange point to be primarily an economic issue. Do whichever is cheaper. Leaving from a Lagrange point requires much less fuel but at what cost to get everything to it from LEO? I haven't run the numbers yet which is dependent on the overall architecture.
Let's get the purpose right. It's not for science or the search for life. That's putting the cart before the horse making everything more expensive and less effective. The purpose is to establish a permanent independent colony that will grow itself over time. It requires presupply but zero resupply... or rather, resupply is provided by the personal possessions of new colonists. Everything else they either make for themselves or do without. This is what it means to be a pioneer. Doing it this way gives us more science results faster and cheaper because keeping scientist alive is no longer the primary occupation of their time.
My architecture starts very simply... $200m to put a ship in LEO dry. This 13k kg ship is a combination of an F9R upper stage and a Bigelow habitat of 200 to 240 cubic meters in volume; which comprises a general purpose ship(s) (GPS) that never lands with a crew of six to twelve. This ship is a profit center that will pay for a second GPS of the same design. It will be thoroughly tested in earth orbit and trips around the moon for profit before both leave together on a mars mission.
[Note to Tito: That GPS gives you a better Inspiration Mars option... just add fuel and take along a Dragon v2 for earth return. Now you don't have to beg for govt, help.]
The only other vehicle is a SpaceX lander waiting for them in mars orbit ($150m each to mars orbit or surface.) That's it, two ship types. Both GPS return empty back to earth for reuse on ion drives.
An optional ERV may be sent but is not part of this mission which is to establish a permanent colony. Better would be a mars SSTO but again not part of this mission.
We send a mars lander to mars orbit ahead of the GPS for every two crew (although it will have seating for four.) It will contain about 1,000 kg of personal possessions for each of the two using it to get down from mars orbit. The plastic containers will themselves be valuable personal property that could hold water or be used for 3D printer feedstock. I would recommend the first mission have a dozen crew to mitigate many of the issues that come up with sending less. Subsequent missions should be much larger but still with just the two thoroughly tested vehicle types. If Elon's MCT lowers costs later, good for him.
Those personal possessions represent both assets to give each colonist a good start in their new home and negate the need for any separate and costly resupply missions. They will trade these valuable earth products for mars products including homes and initial life support which will be entirely ISRU on mars.
We must of course send abundant presupply ahead on additional lander vehicles for the first mission only, which are only used as temporary emergency life support shelters. Martians will live in comfortable homes they personally own, mansions and malls they trench into the ground, not tuna cans. Two tractors can be sent ahead, in one lander, taking a day to assemble.
Lots of solar panels and batteries must be part of presupply. Double or triple whatever we think they need. A lander could even be a ten year nuclear power source with power cords under an external panel. They need enough power to produce more ISRU power. A single lander provides 5,000 days of food (water comes entirely from mars) for one person. We send what they need for the first 26 months but expect most of that to become emergency back up.
How soon can we do this? How soon can we put that $200m GPS in orbit? Whatever the rate of income that produces pay for presupply, fuel, etc.