A Mars Shuttle for $10 Billion
A new and much less costly plan has been developed
to establish a Mars shuttle based upon a new propulsion
system and robot technology. This plan will be largely
self-supporting which is why its cost is so low. This plan
begins by establishing LEO refueling stations which will
later be expanded into large habitable space stations. Next
an unmanned lunar base will be established which will sub-
sequently be expanded into a manufacturing facility. This
facility will provide the parts from which following facil-
ities will be built using robot labor. The spaceships will
be assembled in high earth orbit, again by robot labor. The
first Mars mission will carry a crew of 1000 to Mars in
about five weeks. The crew will spend two years on Mars
before returning to Earth. Since the spaceship itself
will not land at either destination, it will be reusable,
and thus we can establish a shuttle with only one manned
spaceship. The plan needs about 25 years to execute.
The following table lists the major steps of this plan. An
estimate of the cost of each step is given along with an estimate
of the time needed for its implementation in terms of years after
the beginning of the project.
Table 1 - Mars Shuttle Schedule
Component Cost Years
1. Build LEO refueling stations. $100M 0 - 5
2. Build an Earth-to-Moon EMPL $3B 0 - 7
3. Send one Energia to the Moon $800M 3 - 7
4. Expand the lunar base over several years $30M/yr. 7 - 15
5. Build a railroad to the north pole of Moon $250M 8 - 13
6. Build an EMPL at the north pole of Moon $1B 12 - 18
7. Build the Phobos spaceship $1B 16 - 21
8. Build the Mars spaceship $1B 16 - 23
9. Send the Phobos ship to Phobos $250M 22 - 23
10. Manned Mars Mission ( 27 months ) $500M 23 - 26
totals $8.1B 26
The following sections explain each of the steps in some
detail. A full explanation can be found in my book, "Jobs for
the 21st Century".
1. Build LEO refueling stations
Why? LEO refueling stations are needed for several important
reasons. First, we need them to refuel our Energia on its way to
the Moon. Second, the cheap LEO lift capability will make money.
This is very important because we want the project to contribute
to its own financing. How much? At least $2000 per kilogram for
whatever we lift. Third, the refueling stations will be expanded
(by remote assembly) into space stations. Why - to make money by
providing a spectacular sight-seeing attraction, namely the space
stations. This will encourage the building of a small fleet of
space planes. And fourth, the refueling stations will refuel the
spaces planes which will also be used to lift our Mars spaceship
crew to HEO where the spaceship will be waiting.
1.1 Which lift capability should be used?
The best choice would be the cheapest technique. Rockets
are very expensive, but are themselves much cheaper than the US
space shuttle. The following table lists some of the alternatives
along with their costs.
Table 2 - LEO lift options
C O S T S
Method Lift/kg Facilities
1. Gerald Bull's superguns $600 $15M
2. Hydrogen gas gun $100 $500M
3. EMPL (Roth design) $120 $500M
4. Russian Proton rocket $2400 $100M/trip
5. Russian Energia HLLV $3000 $750M/trip
6. US Space Shuttle $50000 $1B/trip
The choice we recommend is Gerald Bull's superguns. In 1988
Gerald Bull signed a contract with Saddam Hussein to build two
superguns for him within 5 years at a total cost of $25 million.
The two guns were actually fabricated by a British company called
Sheffield Forgemasters. They cost $10 million each and are
capable of launching small payloads (about 1 metric ton) into
LEO using rocket boosted projectiles. Although the cost per
kilogram of payload is 5 to 6 times the cost of a hydrogen gas
gun or an EMPL, the cost of building the facilities is dramatically
1.2 How long will it take to develop this capability?
Two superguns were actually fabricated by early 1990, but
their current thereabouts are not public knowledge. Perhaps the
department of defense has them. It would be utterly stupid to have
destroyed the guns. Gerald Bull had not yet completed the design of
the required rocket assisted projectiles when he was assassinated
in Brussels in March of 1990. Three years should be sufficient to
design the projectiles and assemble the guns.
1.3 How would the refueling stations work?
The refueling stations would use solar power to electrolyze
water into oxygen and hydrogen which would be liquefied and
collected in insulated tanks. The superguns would launch water
(or ice) loaded projectiles which would be guided remotely to
the refueling stations. Since the refueling stations would be
so cheap, we would establish several, perhaps as many as 18 over
several years. There would then be sufficient refueling capacity
in orbit to lift our entire Mars crew (to HEO) at one time.
2. Build an Earth-to-Moon EMPL
The second step of the plan is to build an electromagnetic
projectile launcher (EMPL) which would be capable of throwing
projectiles all the way to the Moon - finally realizing the
nineteenth century dream of Jules Verne.
Many papers have been written about EMPLs and the related
devices known as mass drivers. Both devices use a series of
magnetic fields to accelerate (or decelerate) projectiles to
extremely high velocities. Several mass drivers have actually
been built by Henry Kolm and Gerald O'Neill. One paper, by Bruce
Roth, which appeared in Space Manufacturing (V6, pgs 302-9), details
an EMPL designed to place rocket assisted projectiles in LEO.
This design could be augmented to launch the projectiles to the Moon
instead. The cost would be four to five times Roth's estimate or
about $2.5 billion. We estimate that the cost of materials thrown
to the Moon using this EMPL would be less than $2000 per kilogram,
exclusive of the cost of the launcher itself.
2.1 What is the purpose of the Earth-to-Moon EMPL?
There are several reasons for building the facility. First,
it will be used to resupply all future lunar bases. Projectiles
loaded with materials from Earth will be thrown into lunar polar
orbits from which they will be dropped onto the surface of the
Moon when they pass over the appropriate spot. Second, it will
make money by selling the service of placing materials and/or
experimental equipment on the Moon. No doubt many governments,
companies, or universities would like to place research or
commercial equipment on the Moon. Third, when assembly of the
spaceships begins in high Earth orbit (HEO), the Earth-to-Moon
EMPL could assist by sending materials directly from Earth to
the assembly point in HEO.
3. Send one Energia to the Moon
The third step of the plan calls for the launching of one
Energia rocket to the Moon. This will establish the first
permanent (unmanned) lunar base. This is clearly a required
step in the plan (step 2 could be skipped). Note that the
Energia could either climb directly to the Moon or could
refuel in LEO before going on up to the Moon. In the latter
case a much larger payload could be placed on the Moon. We
recommend the latter even though it will necessitate waiting
until the LEO refueling capability is established before
launching the Energia.
3.1 What should be sent to the Moon?
We believe the most important facility needed on the Moon
is a solar array fabrication facility. This is because nearly
everything we will wish do to will require electric power to run
and the nuclear power generator which will be sent on the first
Energia will only last a few years. The next most important
capability will be a small scale general manufacturing facility.
The following table lists the equipment we plan to place on the
Moon with the one and only Energia flight.
Table 3 - Energia cargo manifest
1. Volatile extraction machine
2. "Mont" process machine
3. Aluminum extraction machine
4. Silicon extraction machine
5. Solar cell fabrication machine
6. Nuclear powered electricity generator
7. Mold making machine
8. Vapor deposition machine
9. Communication equipment
10. Androids (3-5)
11. Landing guidance equipment
12. Multi-purpose vehicles (2)
13. Miscellaneous critical components
The first 10 items will be required to fabricate and
assemble the solar cells into vast solar arrays which will
power our lunar bases. Items 7 and 8 will provide the small
scale manufacturing capability. All assembly will be done
by the androids.
3.2 What is the cost and timeframe?
The Energia is the Russian designed and built heavy lift
launch vehicle. It is the world's only existing HLLV. It takes
about 3 years to build an Energia. The total cost of an Energia
mission is about $650M - $750M. The other equipment, with the
exception of the androids, should be relatively easy to build
and comparatively inexpensive - surely not more that $1M per
The development of the androids is a point on which many
people may disagree with me. I believe that they can and will
be developed within the next few years whether or not we go to
the Moon. Thus, they will soon become available for our task.
Androids are major players in this plan. They will do most of
the work on the Moon and in space thus greatly reducing the cost
of the project. The level of artificial intelligence required
is far beyond what is available today, but I believe a determined
effort will be successful in only a few years.
4. Expand the lunar base over several years
The first lunar base will become a manufacturing facility
whose products will be used to build all subsequent facilities.
We will attempt to use as much lunar material as possible since
it will be free, whereas everything sent from Earth will cost
at least $2000 per kilogram or $2M per metric ton (at least 7
times more if the Earth-to-Moon EMPL is not built).
All assembly of facilities and equipment will be done by
androids controlled remotely from three bases on Earth. These
bases will be placed approximately 120 degrees apart around the
Earth. Possible locations would include Europe or North Africa
near 10 degrees east longitude, in the western US or Mexico
around 110 degrees west longitude and in Australia or Russia near
130 degrees east longitude. These bases will cost about $30M per
year to maintain around the clock.
The components required for step 5 (the lunar polar railroad)
are rather simple to manufacture. A small number of androids
should be able to construct it with a couple of simple machines.
The additional androids that will be needed will be sent to the
Moon in pieces where they will be assembled by the androids that are
already there. We must greatly increase the number of androids so
that we will have sufficient labor to manufacture and assemble the
EMPL and spaceships of steps 6,7, and 8. This will require either
doubling the android population each year or simply throwing
sufficient android parts to the Moon each year to assemble about
Eventually we will be able to provide facilities to house
human inhabitants. The Moon is deficient in three of the four
elements needed to support life on Earth - namely: hydrogen,
nitrogen, and carbon. These elements could be thrown to the Moon
in useful forms such as ammonia, methane, or graphite.
5. Build a railroad to the north pole of the Moon.
The key to the whole project is a new spaceship propulsion
system which will allow us to transport a large spaceship with
a crew of 1000 to Mars in as little as five weeks. This propulsion
system requires a large EMPL located at the north pole of the
Moon. Hence the need for a railroad from the first lunar base
to the north pole. The railroad will transport materials and
androids to the north pole to assemble that EMPL (step 6).
The railroad will of course be electrified and will be
powered by solar panels manufactured on the Moon. Only two
machines will be needed to build the railroad. One will prepare
the roadbed and the other will assemble the tracks, ties, and
overhead solar panels. The rails must be shaded from the sun
during the daylight hours to prevent their expansion in the heat.
The power transmission lines must be superconducting to prevent
line loss. Since the lunar temperature is more than 100 degrees
Celsius below zero (in the shade), this should not be difficult.
We have allowed five years to build this railroad which we
estimate will be about 600 miles or 1000 kilometers long. It
will be double track made out of iron. The lunar regolith (soil)
contains about 12% by weight of iron, so there will be much more
iron available than we need. We estimate a total cost of $250
million or $50 million per year to build the railroad. The
railroad should be completed by the 13th year of the project.
6. Build a large EMPL at the north pole of the Moon
The lunar polar EMPL is the heart of the new spaceship
propulsion system. The EMPL will throw "smart" projectiles
to the spaceship which will catch them with another EMPL. The
spaceship will then throw the projectiles back towards the
Moon (or more precisely, in the opposite direction to the
desired direction of motion).
This propulsion system works by transferring momentum
from the "smart" projectiles to the spaceship. The momentum
is created by accelerating the projectiles through the EMPL.
The ultimate power source will be a nuclear powered electricity
generating plant. It may be a fission power plant or just
possibly a "cold" fusion plant. A detailed description of
the propulsion system can be found in my book, "Jobs for the
This EMPL must be capable of throwing 1 metric ton
projectiles at 20 kilometers per second. This is necessary
so that we will be able to accelerate the spaceship to nearly
20 kilometers per second for the flight to Mars. At that
velocity, the trip could take as little as 35 days (depending
on the departure date).
Although the final size of the EMPL may be different, the
following numbers are indicative of what they might be. It will
be about 10 kilometers long and will have an internal diameter
of one meter. The entire EMPL will be mounted on circular
tracks which will allow the EMPL to be rotated clockwise
between each shot to compensate for the counterclockwise motion
of the Moon around the Earth. The power required will be about
2500 megawatts, which will be supplied by a large array of solar
panels (mounted over the railroad).
Following the completion of the circular tracks for the
polar EMPL, the railroad crew will continue building the railroad
south down the far side of the Moon. The purpose of this is to
provide solar power for all of the lunar facilities when the near
side of the Moon is in darkness, i.e. when the Moon is between
the Earth and the Sun. At that time the Sun will be shining on
the far side of the Moon.
If everything goes according to plan, assembly of the lunar
polar EMPL will begin in the 13th year and will take 5 years to
complete. After the fifth year, work will continue to increase
the power capacity in order to increase the ultimate projectile
velocity. [The reason for this is that the maximum velocity of
the manned spaceship is about the same as the maximum velocity
of the projectiles. So, in order to get to Jupiter or Saturn in a
reasonable time, say 6 months or less, we must travel much faster
than on a trip to Mars. Jupiter is about 9 times as far away as
Mars. So, if we travel twice as fast, it will still take us 4.5
times as long to get to Jupiter. That means that if it takes us
5 weeks to get to Mars, it will take us 22.5 weeks or 5.2 months
to reach Jupiter.]
7. Build the Phobos spaceship
The Mars mission will actually consist of sending two ships
to Mars. The first ship, which will be unmanned, will climb
slowly to Mars carrying a load of projectiles which will be used
to stop the manned spaceship when it arrives and to start it up
again for the return trip. [If our confidence is very high, we
could send a projectile manufacturing facility to Mars and build
the projectiles there. Then we would never need to send another
The major parts of the ship will be a 6 kilometer long
EMPL and a nuclear-powered electricity generating facility. In
addition, there will be a large cargo of supporting equipment
for the subsequent manned spaceship. It remains to be determined
whether the nuclear power will be a common fission reactor or if
it will be "cold" fusion.
7.1 What other cargo will be carried?
The following list details the items needed to support the
subsequent manned mission:
1. Projectiles 4000 - 5000
2. Disassembled human habitats 12
3. Disassembled hydroponic gardens 12
4. Rocket booster/landers 12
5. Shuttle craft 12
6. Fuel production facilities 15
7. Nuclear power sources 15
8. Androids 50
9. Communication equipment
10. Observation equipment
11. Mining equipment
12. Projectile manufacturing plant?
The projectiles will be used to slow down the manned spaceship
as it approaches Mars. Since the velocity of the projectiles from
Phobos will be about 10 kilometers per second and the incoming ship's
velocity will be nearly 20 kilometers per second, the total relative
velocity will be nearly 30 kilometers per second. Thus, fewer
projectiles will be needed to slow down the ship than will be needed
to speed up the ship for the trip home.
The rocket boosters/landers will be used to place 12 sets
of habitats, hydroponic gardens, power sources, fuel production
facilities, two or three androids, and some communication and
observation equipment at 12 different sites on Mars. The androids
will be responsible for setting up the facilities and getting them
The mining equipment will dig into Phobos to find the ice
which we believe is buried there. Some of the fuel production
equipment will produce oxygen and hydrogen from the ice which will
be used as rocket fuel to land all the other equipment on Mars.
7.2 Where will the Phobos ship be built?
The ship will be assembled in high Earth orbit, actually
in the same orbit as the Moon, but either 60 degrees ahead of
the Moon at L4 or 60 degrees behind the Moon at L5. L4 and L5
are two stable gravity wells which were first discovered by
the French mathematician Lagrange.
Most of the components will be manufactured on the Moon
and thrown to the assembly point by the polar EMPL. This will
save vast amounts of money. Remotely controlled androids at
L4 or L5 will assemble the ship.
We estimate it will require several years to design the
Phobos ship and equipment. We have allowed 3 years to assemble
the ship beginning in about the 18th year of the project, and
about 1 year to transport the ship to Phobos (year 22 or 23).
8. Build the Mars manned spaceship
The Mars spaceship will have three major components; a
6 kilometer long EMPL, a nuclear-powered electricity generating
facility, and the crew's quarters. The entire ship will weigh
(mass) about 3000 metric tons. This will include 1900MT for
the EMPL, 100MT for the 500MW nuclear generator, and 1000MT
for the crew - one metric ton each.
Much of the design of the Phobos ship can be employed in
this ship as well. The fully assembled crew's quarters will
be the major new component of the Mars ship. Quarters will be
provided for a crew of 1000.
8.1 Why take such a large crew?
Of course there are many reasons. The following list gives
some of them.
1. It will transform the first Mars mission into the greatest
international expedition of all time.
2. It will cause an exponential increase in public interest
and political support for the project.
3. On-board seats can be sold to the public worldwide to raise
funds to support the project.
4. The cost per person will be greatly reduced from that which
would occur if a crew of fewer than 10 were sent on a
5. The knowledge and experience to be gained from a large
crew is clearly much greater than could be accomplished
with a small crew.
6. The crew will not be a small elite group selected in some
obscure and suspicious way by unknown and untouchable
bureaucrats or governments.
7. Crew members need not be special in any way (except perhaps
in not being seriously ill); however, since weight will be
important, women may have a preference.
8.2 What will the quarters be like?
The crew's quarters will be built in the shape of a ring
which will surround a short segment of the length of the EMPL.
The ring will be about 200 meters in diameter, 20 meters wide,
and four floors (12 meters) high. The top and bottom floors
will grow food and the middle two floors will house the people.
The entire ship will rotate about the central axis (the EMPL)
at about 3 rpm which will create artificial gravity for the crew.
Thus "up" will be toward the axis of the EMPL.
Artificial gravity provides many advantages over the
microgravity environments of all previous human space flights
- such as:
1. Normal gravity for the crew during the flight.
2. No atrophy of the muscles, including the heart.
3. No blood deterioration
4. No decalcification of the bones.
5. No daily exercise programs will be needed.
6. Common human activities can be accomplished normally.
Each crew floor will consist of apartments on either side
of a central hallway. Each apartment will be about 5 meters
by 9 meters (3 meters high) and will be shared by two people
(plus possible minors). Bathroom facilities will be shared to
save weight and will be maintained by the androids - as will
kitchen, dining, and recreation facilities.
Crew members will be allowed to design their own apartments.
For further details please see chapter 9 of my book.
8.3 What is the cost and timeframe?
Assembly of the Mars ship should begin at the same time as
the Phobos ship (the 18th year). It should be completed by the
22nd or 23rd year so that the mission can proceed immediately to
The cost of building either the Phobos or Mars spaceships
is seriously complicated by three factors which are not encountered
here on Earth. First, the materials from the Moon will be free
except for their extraction and fabrication costs. Second, the
power needed to operate all the equipment will also be free (solar
power). Third, the cost of assembly by remote controlled androids
is very difficult to estimate. It depends very heavily on the
intelligence of the androids themselves. If we can provide them
with sufficient intelligence that they could be nearly self-
sufficient, then some androids could monitor others and thus
costs would be greatly reduced.
We have estimated $1B for each of the spaceships. If each
ship takes 4 years to assemble, that corresponds to 2500 humans
at a salary (including all benefits and taxes) of $100,000 per
year for each ship. That is really a lot of labor for such simple
assembly tasks. [Granted the assembly will be in space, but remember
that the androids won't need air to breathe, or spacesuits, and
the cold will not bother them. Furthermore, they can work 24 hours
a day, seven days a week.]
9. Send the Phobos ship to Phobos
As early as possible, the Phobos ship will be sent on a
Hohmann trajectory to Mars. This will take about 9 months.
During this time, assembly of the Mars spaceship will continue
in HEO. It will probably require several months to set up all
the fuel manufacturing facilities on Phobos to produce the fuel
needed to transport the habitats and other equipment down to the
surface of Mars (a distance of about 6000 kilometers). During
that period, the surface of Mars will be observed closely and
12 landing sites will be selected in close consultation with
the crew who will be going to Mars.
Perhaps a year after arrival at Phobos, the landers will
be ready to drop down to the surface. Next, the androids must
set up habitats, the hydroponic growing equipment, the fuel
production equipment, and the nuclear power facilities at each
of the 12 sites. This will probably take several weeks. Each
site must be self-contained and must have its own air and water
supply sufficient to support its future human inhabitants.
The fuel production equipment will probably produce fuel
from the Martian atmosphere by breaking the carbon dioxide (which
constitutes 95 percent of it) down into oxygen and carbon monoxide.
There may also be ice under the surface of Mars which could be
used for fuel. Whatever fuel we can produce will be used to lift
the landers back up to Phobos to await the manned spaceship. This
operation may take several months if the fuel is produced at a
The total time between launch windows to Mars is about
779 days or 25.5 months. We should have everything ready for
the manned mission in about 18 months. Thus, we should have
a little spare time before the launch of the manned mission.
10. The first manned mission to Mars
As mentioned previously, the first manned mission will
take a crew of 1000. Interested parties will be able to purchase
passage on this expedition several years in advance of departure.
The tickets will cost about $2 million each - clearly not cheap.
Sale of these tickets will raise $2 billion to help defer costs
up to this point in time.
We expect an international group consisting of married
couples from many different countries and all races. It may be
necessary to limit purchases by individuals, companies, or
countries so that some tickets will be available to individuals
from countries other than just the developed ones.
A rough outline of the mission follows:
1. Lift the crew to LEO using a fleet of space planes such as
the Spacebus (promoted by David Ashford and Patrick Collins),
the Space van (Len Cormier's TSTO plan), the Hotol (a British/
Russian TSTO scheme), or Sanger a German TSTO vehicle.
2. Refuel the space planes at several LEO refueling stations.
3. Use the same space planes to lift the crew to HEO and the
waiting Mars spaceship.
4. Climb to Mars in 5 weeks using my new propulsion system
(US patent #5,305,974).
5. Upon reaching the Mars system, rendezvous with Phobos and
transfer the crew to Phobos by small shuttle craft.
6. Using the 12 landers, disburse the crew to the 12 different
sites on the surface of Mars.
7. The landers will touch down simultaneously.
8. The crews will remain on Mars for 2 years - until the
return launch window. They will live in the habitats and
will eat the food grown in the hydroponic gardens. They will
explore, experiment, and document their findings for fun,
profit, and history.
9. The landers will then lift the crew back up to Phobos - where
the return trip will simply be the reverse of the outbound
trip. Total mission time: about 825 days.
Income from the first manned Mars mission will not only
pay for itself, but will also cover some of the costs incurred
previous to the mission. We have identified four major sources
of income from this mission.
1. 1000 tickets at $2 million each will yield $2 billion.
2. World wide television and radio rights to live broadcasts
throughout the mission - conservatively $1 billion.
3. Sales of mission recordings, videos, and data not broadcast
by the media - $500 million.
4. Sales of Martian souvenirs - $500 million.
Total: $4 billion.
Subsequent missions will cost much less since the two ships
will already be built; however, we anticipate somewhat less
income from subsequent missions since they can no longer be
"the first manned mission to Mars".
Other sources of income include the inexpensive LEO lift
capability, the tourist attraction of the LEO space stations,
the cheap lunar placement capability, the sale of lunar products
and souvenirs, and other sales of radio and TV rights.
10.2 The space planes
When I surveyed the world's space planes for my book, I
found there were at least 15 different programs around the
world. They varied from the US space shuttle and the Russian
Buran space plane, to US, Japanese, and Russian SSTO (single
stage to orbit) programs, to various TSTO (two stage to orbit)
plans as mentioned above.
Today only about 10 of these programs are still alive, but
perhaps others have been begun as well.
It seems clear that the TSTO plans will be the least
expensive and should eventually become operational. Projected
costs are in the neighborhood of $100 per kilogram to lift
passengers to LEO. At those rates, tourist tickets to LEO
could be available for $10,000 - $15,000. We believe that
this will foster the growth of a small fleet of space planes
over a period of several years. Our timeline would allow
more than 15 years between the establishment of the first
LEO refueling station and the departure of the first manned
Mars mission. That should be sufficient time to develop the
needed 10 to 20 space planes.
The mission described above will just be the first of
many. Since the primary manned spaceship will not land at
either Mars or Earth, it can and will be reused. Thus, we
have established a Mars shuttle for less than $10 billion.