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#101 2017-10-16 20:14:39

JoshNH4H
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Re: Possible Martian Export Products?

One way of thinking about the export question is to ask why we're going to Mars in the first place, or, put another way, how going to Mars will benefit the people who don't get to live there.

At a certain basic level, we may find that there is a minimal level of goods and services with hard value that are worth creating on Mars to send to Earth.  For the purposes of this thread, I'm looking to exports with value beyond their trendiness (e.g. I'm specifically excluding tourism, media, branding, charity, and subsidies).  What I'm looking for are exports that can sustain a civilization economically over timescales of decades or centuries.

I do this keeping in mind that there are costs associated with doing things in space that are not associated with doing things on Earth.  It's more expensive to procure labor and capital.  It takes more resources to sustain human life.  Making life possible at all will required the development of a whole host of new techniques and technologies that will never be used by 99.99% of humanity (that remain on Earth).

No location in space has an inherent advantage over Earth in labor when the two go head-to-head.  What certain places may have, however, is physical/environmental advantages that make certain kinds of activities favorable for established places when compared to Earth.  Here's a few examples:

  • There are vacuums in space so hard that they would be expensive to generate on Earth.  Vacuum is useful for a lot of things, but one really important one might be 3D printing with metals.  In a vacuum, you could do physical vapor deposition with Iron, Aluminium, Titanium, etc. in a way that you couldn't easily do on Earth because the metal would oxidize during production, even with small amounts of Oxygen (depending on droplet size, e.g. resolution, this could also make your parts sort of "fuzzy" with air drag redirecting your part materials somewhat

  • We are heading rapidly towards a world where solar power is the cheapest form of electricity on Earth.  In many places and under some circumstances it already is.  However, Earth is not an ideal place for solar power.  Its diurnal cycle causes a pi-fold reduction in average energy production, its annual seasonal variation causes unwanted variations in total energy production, and its weather both reduces and renders power production unpredictable.  None of these are true in the vacuum of space or in certain select locations near the poles of some planetary bodies.  This means that energy in space could be cheaper than on Earth.  This, in turn, means that if you can get the technology to work out it might be cost-effective to send energy down to Earth from orbit, but it could also make sense to put energy-intensive industries (I have cited Aluminum production in the past as something that could fit the bill for the Moon).  This energy advantage is more and more true the closer you get to the Sun.

  • Microgravity may be a beneficial environment for a variety of processes (possibly including advanced manufacturing, as above for hard vacuum) things, possibly including crystallization of amorphous metals that have higher strengths than normal microcrystalline metals.

  • Other kinds of material extraction: Because heavy metals tend to sink down towards the cores of large planetary bodies they can be very hard to get towards the surface.  Platinum Group Metals (PGMs, Ruthenium, Rhodium, Palladium, Osmium, Iridium, and Platinum) are all pretty rare and have a lot of applications on Earth in electronics and chemical catalysis.  You might expect to find these in higher quantities in M-type asteroids, as well as on the surface of Mercury.  This is also true for precious and semiprecious metals, as well as things like Gold, Nickel, Copper, Tungsten, etc. that are all at least somewhat rare on Earth because the easy to access reserves have been tapped out.  This also may or may not begin to apply to Lithium at some point in the future too as demand for batteries rises.

  • Lots of other applications for Earth Orbit that are already happening, supercharged as the price falls.

Other than potentially Lithium*, none of these really has anything to do with Mars.  Mars is in a kind of uncanny valley as far as exports to Earth are concerned, because it's similar enough to Earth that it doesn't have much of an advantage from these kind of environmental or resource concerns for most elements.  True, it has a much higher surface concentration of Iron than Earth does, but we are not nearing any kind of shortage of Iron ore and Iron/Steel are very cheap in terms of $/kg anyway (I think in bulk they're roughly $0.20/kg but don't quote me).  Mars has many of the same problems with solar energy as Earth does, only somewhat worse because it's farther from the Sun (not as much worse as you might think based on distance from the Sun alone because its atmosphere is thinner and its weather is less variable, but still worse).  If we find ourselves on a different path where nuclear power is expanding on Earth and is developed to the point of being cheaper than Solar, Mars at best will be on equal footing.

Mars has neither hard vacuum nor microgravity, does not have particularly impressive energy resources, nor to our knowledge any particularly impressive metallic resources.  There seems to be no civilization-sustaining resource that it has (to our knowledge).  This may change with further exploration, but there's no real reason to believe that Mars will have economically better endowments of most metals than does Earth.

What Mars does have, instead, is a somewhat similar endowment of resources to Earth in a weaker gravitational field.  This will make it possible to have a more balanced, prosperous society on the whole.  With its weaker gravity field (the potential for a space elevator using currently-existing materials is there) Mars is a lot more accessible to all the other places than Earth is.  Even for Earth orbital space the energy required for a transfer from Mars is lower than from Earth's surface.  This will make Mars have a lower cost of living than other places (costs of living will be quite high in space in general and wages will also necessarily be high; this will, in turn, make it more expensive to conduct business there unless it is absolutely necessary).  Because Mars will also be more self-sufficient with most resources than most places, it will end up with an advantage over other places in space on finished products that require substantial labor input and a wider variety of resources.

In effect, this would be a sort of three point economy.  Initial capital investments in places like the Moon, NEOs, the asteroids, Mercury, Earth Orbital Space, etc., will come from Earth.  These settlements will in turn export various objects and commodities to Earth.  Meanwhile after a certain point they will import certain resources and capital products from Mars.  All of these settlements will hopefully see trade surpluses that they invest by importing labor and capital from Earth, thus benefitting everyone.

*Unlike the other metals mentioned, Lithium is a light element whose scarcity on Earth is a result of its general scarcity in the Universe as opposed to gravity concentrating it in Earth's core or historical mining.  Lithium compounds are generally very soluble in water, which means that they get concentrated in saltwater and ultimately find their way into salt flats that we mine.


-Josh

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#102 2017-10-16 21:18:33

SpaceNut
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Re: Possible Martian Export Products?

As the page turns the reality show, films, novelties with wear off and then there is just what we can do for man on mars by the men on mars. First and utmost will be to protect each other as survival comes first and then once something shows its value it can and then will be exported.

The greater value will be to build a new world from the strength of men that fear not the new frontier of mars and what it will bring.

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#103 2017-10-17 04:32:28

elderflower
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Re: Possible Martian Export Products?

Aren't we going simply because humans have itchy feet, Josh? People walked from Africa to Tasmania in only a few thousand years.

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#104 2017-10-17 04:51:12

clark
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Re: Possible Martian Export Products?

We're going because it is irrational and that is one of our greatest gifts.

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#105 2017-10-17 04:55:49

JoshNH4H
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Re: Possible Martian Export Products?

Why we're going depends on who is included in "we", but at the moment we're not really going at all. This tells me we need a paradigm shift. Telling people they'll make lots of money (or to put it more generously that people's quality of life on Earth will go up) tends to be a good way of getting them to do things


-Josh

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#106 2017-10-17 04:59:00

clark
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Re: Possible Martian Export Products?

So lie to people? Neither of those things you mention are true.

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#107 2017-10-17 05:01:03

JoshNH4H
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Re: Possible Martian Export Products?

If you tell people something and have a plan to make it true it's a promise, not a lie.  That's my interpretation of the point of the thread.


-Josh

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#108 2017-10-17 05:03:11

elderflower
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Re: Possible Martian Export Products?

"We" is humans in general, as a species, not any particular individuals, many of whom don't have itchy feet but still have intellectual curiosity. I have to make do with terrestrial transport and will never get to Mars, but I still want to know more things.

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#109 2017-10-17 05:06:32

JoshNH4H
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Re: Possible Martian Export Products?

Our record on actually building cities in space is quite poor, itchy feet or no. It's been possible for decades now and we have chosen not to


-Josh

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#110 2017-10-17 05:10:28

clark
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Re: Possible Martian Export Products?

I think it is shortsighted.

There is no direct value in going to Mars for anyone. There is no economic argument, now or in the future, for going down a gravity well.

What is needed, in my opinion, is simple manifest destiny. Mars is the destination because it is Mars. Not because of resources or science or whatever.

Mars is the destination because it is there, and we are not, and that implies an imbalance in an otherwise balanced universe. We must fix this wrong, not for profit, or for saving our species or any other absurd rationalization. We must go to Mars for the simple fact that it is there and we are not.

When we reduce everything we have all talked about or thought about when it comes to Mars, it boils down to that simple truth. It is there, and we are not, and we find that fundamentally wrong.

Don't walk around it, just embrace it.

Or contort yourself and logic to make grand plans built of sand and hope no one sneezes.

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#111 2017-10-17 05:12:18

JoshNH4H
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Re: Possible Martian Export Products?

Do you find you have much luck convincing nonbelievers with that argument?


-Josh

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#112 2017-10-17 05:19:38

clark
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Re: Possible Martian Export Products?

It's not about convincing, it's being clear that the destination is purpose enough. We should go to Mars.

Instead of starting from a place of, let's go to Mars, and here is why... begin with, "we should go to Mars. Why do you think we shouldn't?"

Mars proponents are far too defensive because at their core, they don't accept that it is okay to just state the truth. "As crazy and irrational as it sounds, we should go to mars." Everyone is, "i know this sounds crazy, but we should go to Mars."

Just my opinion.

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#113 2017-10-17 05:25:46

JoshNH4H
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Re: Possible Martian Export Products?

I think our viewpoints complement each other. I agree that we should go to Mars, I want to, and for me it's reason enough to put boots on the ground and eyes on the land. But that doesn't exempt us from figuring out how to pay for it any more than it exempts us from figuring out how to build the rockets or design the habs.


-Josh

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#114 2017-10-17 05:48:09

clark
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Re: Possible Martian Export Products?

How do you sell a dream? You make people part of the dream.

Mars needs more poets. Bradbury figured that out.

I agree you have to figure out financing, but my original point stands, there is no economic reason to justify Mars. You have to speak to passion and imagination. Going the route of economic investment and returns is the route of Bean Counters. And no one sees truth more clearly than a Bean Counter.

You cannot make up the mathematical requirements to escape earths gravity any more than you can make up the math around economic returns.

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#115 2017-10-17 06:02:27

JoshNH4H
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Re: Possible Martian Export Products?

The energy requirement to leave Earth's gravitational field actually is not the biggest barrier to getting to Mars. Electrical energy in the US costs $0.07/kWh, or $0.02/MJ. The gravitational potential at Earth's surface is 11.2^2/2, or 63 MJ/kg. This would cost $1.25/kg, which is a far cry from what it actually costs. The problem isn't energy, it's technology and infrastructure, and more specifically a lack thereof.

You claim that my object in this thread is based on false premises, when in fact all I'm doing is exploring means to achieve a goal. Yet in doing so you're ignoring most of the realities of the situation yourself.


-Josh

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#116 2017-10-17 06:12:08

clark
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Re: Possible Martian Export Products?

Okay, any conversation that begins with a justification of endeavor based on potential return of investment fails as it will always compete based on lost opportunity costs. If I give you a dollar for Mars, with the promise of a return in 10 years, I must compare that investment against what I would see if I spent that dollar on an investment closer to home over the same time period. In ever single economic scenario, I am better off not investing in Mars as the ROI in non-Mars options is greater, faster, and can more directly benefit me in the near term.

The only reason to invest in Mars is for passion or for prestige. And in both cases, making a claim for ROI is just window dressing, which is mostly my point.

Any reason to invest in Mars can be made for investing in doing something at the bottom of the ocean, on the moon, or in a floating castle in GEO. Or some other distant lump of dirt in the sky.

Anyway, onward and upward. Cheers.

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#117 2017-10-17 06:16:28

JoshNH4H
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Re: Possible Martian Export Products?

Turn it around. What you're doing is reasonable but not necessary factual. The goal is to engineer it, to see what can be possible.

There presumably will be some government subsidies involved, especially at the beginning. Government cares more about the economy as a whole rather than the return of money to itself.

A resource/energy boom in space might just do the trick


-Josh

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#118 2017-10-17 06:17:25

Antius
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Re: Possible Martian Export Products?

I am inclined to agree with Josh.

High Earth orbit is the most sensible first target to colonise so far as human beings are concerned.

(1)    It has ample free sunlight that can be concentrated to high temperatures using concave aluminium foil mirrors.  It is available about 99% of the time;

(2)    It has zero G and hard vacuum, which are industrially useful commodities;

(3)    Gravity and air can be provided where needed, using rotation and pressurisation;

(4)    The closeness to Earth has all sorts of advantages.  Your transfer vehicle has much better economic performance, as more trips can be carried out in its operational lifetime; less provision is needed for life support, which means better payload; Delta-V is less, again better payloads; you can escape back to Earth in emergencies.  It also means that many operations can be teleoperated from Earth and there can be continuous datalinks from Earth.  The need for people is limited to assembling and repairing things;

(5)    I think best of all, provided we can establish mining operations on other bodies, transport between low Earth orbit and high Earth orbit, should not require rockets.  Low thrust propulsion can be established using reaction engines.  On this basis, unprocessed space materials or waste materials from manufacturing can be used as reaction mass.  That means that after space mining and manufacturing are established, all of the material delivered to LEO can be useful payload – none of it need be propellant.

(6)    Mining facilities established on the moon and asteroids can be almost entirely robotic and in the case of the moon, even teleoperated from Earth.  Human presence would only be needed when something went wrong and needed repairing.

Overall, high Earth orbit would appear to have an overwhelming economic advantage as the first place that human beings seriously establish themselves in space.  Mars would appear to be an end destination that would need to be almost completely autarkic from day 1.  It is an interesting place to go for its own reasons, but is not a very sensible first place to colonise.

If the planet can be partially terraformed, i.e. its atmospheric pressure increased by pumped CFCs into the air, it might have a competitive advantage in the production of food for consumption in space.  One can then imagine a trade between high Earth orbit and Mars, with HEO providing manufactured goods in exchange for food.

Last edited by Antius (2017-10-17 06:24:48)

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#119 2017-10-17 06:20:06

Terraformer
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Re: Possible Martian Export Products?

I don't think we'll be going anywhere if the cost of putting things just in LEO remains >$1000/kg. Maybe a government run Lunar base. If we get the cost down, then I think we can justify a proper Lunar town, funded through science missions, tourism, mining, long term residents who use it as a playground etc. We might then be able to get a Mars base.


"I guarantee you that at some point, everything's going to go south on you, and you're going to say, 'This is it, this is how I end.' Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work." - Mark Watney

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#120 2017-10-17 07:49:17

JoshNH4H
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Re: Possible Martian Export Products?

I don't think that we have the evidence to say that any particular launch cost is a red line, above which cities in space are not economically viable.  I do agree in general terms that lower launch costs make everything more cost effective.

As far as where to go first, I think the Moon is probably best because it has a lot of mineable resources and proximity to Earth.  High Earth Orbit presumably will see some development at the same time.  They complement each other fairly well, I would say, especially if/when we get a lunar space elevator going through EML1 (Bonus: For almost free transfers to Mars/Venus, build a second lunar space elevator out through and past EML2).

I think as a general rule when you're not on Earth food production will be integrated into the life support, because producing food for consumption necessarily also produces roughly the right amount of Oxygen for inhabitants to breathe.


-Josh

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#121 2017-10-17 08:12:45

Terraformer
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Re: Possible Martian Export Products?

That depends on how easy it is to grow food, and whether there's a market for waste products. Space stations may find it easiest to sell their waste CO2 and water to depots, and import the food from elsewhere.


"I guarantee you that at some point, everything's going to go south on you, and you're going to say, 'This is it, this is how I end.' Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work." - Mark Watney

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#122 2017-10-17 08:36:15

JoshNH4H
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Re: Possible Martian Export Products?

It's conceivable but I would be surprised if it worked out that way any time soon.  In effect you would be taking your food mass to the food production facility and then back to your station instead of just putting a greenhouse there.  It's possible though I guess


-Josh

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#123 2017-10-17 10:29:18

louis
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Re: Possible Martian Export Products?

A good deal of pessimism and irrelevancies on display here. Thanks be that we have Elon Musk and Space X around to drive their juggernaut over the people standing in the road with placards saying "It Won't Work".

It's not a case of "because it's there" (although that will be cause enough for some people) - no, it's because it's there holding the key to solving a hundred scientific puzzles, including possibly the origin of life,  and because it has a huge range of resources available for free...no landlords, no taxes, no licence-fee takers. In other words, as well as holding out an existential promise of moving humanity to a second home, it is also a completely rational exercise.

Long discourses on what we might or might not do in zero G in space are nearly entirely irrelevant to a thread devoted to Martian export products.  Mars is no more in "space" than Earth is.

Then we have references to "novelties" and entertainment products as though they can't be "real" or enduring exports.  Abba the Swedish pop group outsold Volvo vehicles in terms of Swedish exports.  Hollywood adds over $500 billion a year to the US economy. You might think these are trivial products but they can be big earners.

I have set out clearly the many export opportunities that will come with colonisation of Mars and I have given financial estimates based on Earth experience and rational extrapolations  (e.g. look at how much the Olympics raises in commercial/TV rights sponsorship and have a think about how much a Mars Mission could raise in comparison...then look at how much Mars might attract going forward over several decades).

Sponsorship is in effect an export. That sponsorship will in my view remain high for many decades, possibly centuries, just as groups and individuals can still get sonsporship for Everest expeditions despite the number of times it's been climbed but on a much, much bigger scale of course.  There will be plenty of sponsors for all sorts of expeditions and events on Mars - the first Mars Olympics, the first Mars football match, the first expedition to climb Olympic Mons, the first expedition to the North and South Poles...This is how companies work - they associate themselves  and their products with feelgood events that show courage, endurance, and character or which have intrinsic interest.

Then there is life support and transit.  Anyone who thinks there won't be hundreds of institutions lined up to explore and research Mars is deluded.  If people will research Antarctica in their thousands they will research Mars in their tens of thousands. There will be a research "goldrush", but the researchers won't be able to get there and live there without the help of Space X or a Mars Corporation.

That's just the beginning of course - we have the potential sale of regolith, meteorites, rare gems, jewellery, luxury watches assembled on Mars with Mars gems incorporated, luxury novelties and textiles (anything v. light). By the way, just saying "regolith" doesn't do Mars justice.  We've already seen the incredible shapes on view on the Mars surface in just a few isolated locations e.g the suspended long "spoons". These are clearly to exercise a huge fascination and bring in tens of thousands of visitors to museums and so on.

And of course, as we see from Dubai  (as referenced above), investors with serious money are already willing to invest in Mars-themed visitor experiences.  Can you imagine how popular a Mars Corporation-owned visitor attraction in Florida or London would be?  It couldbefill out with artefacts from Mars - rocks, meteorites, the first Rover, the steps off which the first person stepped foot on Mars...plus VR Mars displays and direct communication with Mars. The Space Center in Houston draws a million people every year.  I am sure that there is room for at least 8 Mars Museums across the world - Florida, California, London, Berlin, Johannesberg, Dubai, Tokyo, Perth, Singapore...bringing in as much as 20 million visitors a year.

Other possiblities include

(a) establishing art galleries and sculpture parks where art works designed by famous artists from Earth will be displayed
(b) data storage or processing
(c) inventions and development of IP (a particular favourite of Elon Musk I believe)
(d) sale of exclusive TV and image rights to various companies on Earth
(e) publishing of general and specialist books on Mars
(f) teaching about Mars on Earth, via telecoms.

Suggesting Mars will be somehow a "poor relation" of the Moon, orbital space and the asteroid belt is to my mind getting it all the wrong way round. I am pleased that Musk is also shunning that way of looking at things and is if anything prioritising Mars, or at least thinking in terms of co-development with lunar colonisation and orbital space. Mars is the real prize because it has the really big potential.

As for Mars-Earth transit costs I don't see any reason for supposing that $1000 per kg is a real barrier.

Firstly, if we can get economies of scale on BFR manufacture, costs will naturally continue to fall.

Secondly, let's remember that on Earth in all sorts of contexts, transport is subsidised by the state.  We see that with ferries to small islands, rail networks, freight transport, road building and so on.  Why do states throw money into otherwise loss making endeavours?  Because it's good for the community and the economy overall.  So, there is no reason in principle why the Mars community won't decide to subsidise Mars-Earth transit.  There is nothing to stop them making rockets on Mars and making the propellant will be a doddle. We've seen ramshackle N Korea can develop sophisticated rockets from a very low tech base - whereas Mars will be a high tech base.  Even before it can produce the whole transit infrastructure, Mars could simply offer cash subsidies ie pay Space X whatever it costs per BFR - let's say $200 million.  As long as they are earning $200 million to pay for the BFR flight, that's OK.  Of course then, with zero transit costs, all sorts of exports become possible e.g. luxury textiles.  We know on Earth people will pay $1000 for a dress that doesn't weigh much. Who knows what sorts of exports might be possible. 

So you might end up with a situation where the Mars colony pays say $200million to cover a BFR cargo flight, bringing in imports worth $20 million, and then takes exports to be sold on Earth...which bring in $150 million.  So overall cost to the Mars colony would be net $70 million. 

How would they pay for that $70million?  Well partly through profits from the valuable exports already mentioned which can cover the cost of other flights or which don't require physical exports.  If Mars can generate a surplus of $700 million pa, it can pay for 20 such flights every two years. 20 flights = $3 billion worth of exports.  Are people starting to see how this works?

I am not saying Mars can suddenly jump to producing enough high value exports worth $3 billion but the potential is there.

Another way Mars will prosper is through capital investment.  Mars will be no different to any other economy connected to the free market. If the economy is growing, there are opportunities to profit from that growth and investors will be interested.  Mars GDP will be growing at a phenomenal rate - probably something like 30-40% per annum. The attraction to investors will become increasingly the case as Mars's population expands. Earth investors will be happy to invest, knowing that profits are just about guaranteed.  There will be no shortage of investment.


Let's Go to Mars...Google on: Fast Track to Mars blogspot.com

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#124 2017-10-17 10:32:56

Terraformer
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Re: Possible Martian Export Products?

How much mass and complexity will having a greenhouse add? It might be easier to grow food on Luna (using lightpipes, I expect). If we're exporting propellent anyway, it's not going to take up extra fuel - the water from the stations will make up for it. If we've got a Lunar space elevator, it will be even cheaper.

Unfortunately, a Martian space elevator probably isn't feasible.


"I guarantee you that at some point, everything's going to go south on you, and you're going to say, 'This is it, this is how I end.' Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work." - Mark Watney

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#125 2017-10-17 10:44:06

JoshNH4H
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Re: Possible Martian Export Products?

Terraformer wrote:

If we're exporting propellent anyway, it's not going to take up extra fuel - the water from the stations will make up for it.

Can you clarify what you mean by this?


-Josh

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