2015: Virgle Base 1
If you're like us, and deep down you aren't all that interested in going to Mars in the first place unless it means setting loose a swarm of super-cool robots -- well, rest easy. When the Virgle 1 lands, teams of autonomous rovers and assembly platforms will leap into action:
- Nuclear reactors. Primary and secondary C02-cooled pebble bed nuclear reactors, a big part of the Martian colony's energy equation, lie at the bottom of lava pits shielded with Martian regolith not far from the main habs. We're 99.9% certain that they're safe.
- Martian Positioning System – Virgle's MPS satellites start taking 360-degree stereo imagery, subsurface radar data and land plot position measurement. This data will be used to populate the land registry which will someday make ancestors of the (hint, hint) earliest Virgle investors very wealthy individuals indeed.
- Earth return vehicles are plugged in to the fuel production plant. If all goes well, the ERVs will serve as fuel storage tanks. If all does not go well, they'll serve as lifeboats to get stranded Pioneers back home. So we keep them gassed up.
- Hab modules will be fully integrated with the base’s permanent power sources and communication infrastructure long before the first teams of Virgle Pioneers show up to check out their new digs. Yes, this place comes with utilities.
- Production plants - use solid oxide electrolysis to turn atmospheric CO2 into breathable oxygen for the crew, and use the Sabatier process to turn it into methane rocket fuel and water for the greenhouses. Finally, a place where (for the moment, anyway) we don’t mind that C02 levels are so high.
- Assembly platforms adapt (by which we mean “detonate powerful explosives within") the lava tubes to clear impeding structures and level access corridors before moving the electronics inside. Humankind began in caves, and to caves we now return.
- Robotic vehicles ferry modules from the landing ellipse to the foot of the cliffs and begin laying the Virgle Base 1’s structures, power and communication lines, startup energy sources and uplink antennas and shields.
- Greenhouses are inflated, structure polymers hardened and aeroponic equipment powered up and tested. These greenhouses will provide early Pioneers with their standard diet of potatoes, rice, onions, tomatoes, soya, lettuce, spinach, wheat and the Martian delicacy spirulina (it's 70% protein, and trust us, that's all you really need, or want, to know).