Russian Megarovers and Martian Industry

Sure, they have mars rover analogues in Iceland.  But this is a whole ‘nuther level.

The scale of the Kharkovchanka puts into perspective what would be required of a rover on Mars capable of what is described in the book and short stories (and especially in the in-work material).

Granted, most travel would be on “tracks”: the dirt or gravel roads plowed between settlements. But that wouldn’t be the case for the Ares missions or newly-landed settlements, exploration, or other activities taking place in undeveloped areas or in the Wilds. Where roads do not exist, something akin to a Kharkovchanka is needed: robust and powerful, and with a drive system able to tackle virgin terrain. The remoteness of such activities from settlements adds the need for extended self-sufficiency, including carrying supplies for a crew of (say) 4-8 people for several weeks.

When you add to this the living space and amenities necessary to allow them to do productive work while not losing their marbles from the cramped conditions, you get a substantially larger rover than what we’ve seen in the Ares Project stories (so far…).

It’d be tough to fit all this into a package that can be shipped to Mars on a “Mars Direct”-style lander, of course.  On the other hand, rovers used by the fictional Ares Project weren’t intended for extended use or long-distance travel (>500km), especially not with the full 4-6 person crew aboard. Based on real-world NASA conservatism in such things, such missions also wouldn’t land in areas with difficult terrain. Indeed, the fate of Ares III is an in-universe example of why “land in a parking lot” is sound practice in the early phases of exploration.

With the commencement of settlement on Mars, settlers needs quickly outgrow what can be accomplished with rovers small enough to transport from Earth. That the settlements are mostly commercial also means rovers transported from Earth constitute an enormous expenditure of limited capital. With the establishment of an industrial base, rovers become a high priority for import substitution. Larger, more robust, and more capable rovers incorporating local knowledge and experience in their design would be a high priority early on for the settlers, along with not having to break the bank to get them shipped from Earth.

Early on, combining imported high-tech (and high-density) items like power and navigation systems with Mars-fabricated heavy structures and bulky but simple components would be the obvious first step towards a fully Martian rover industry. The industry would be more Rolls-like than Ford-like (hand assembly vs. assembly lines, short runs vs. mass-production). But with a small population and no export market, you get what you get.

In the Mars context, however, rover systems and components have a market outside of the rover industry. A compact life support system, for example, is useful in fixed applications as well. ECLSS for rovers by nature would be transportable to undeveloped locations, making them perfect for startup settlements and oases. Though sized for what amounts to a Winnebago on steroids, ganging multiple small units provides ECLSS redundancy – and peace of mind for those at remote sites. Likewise, the same technology works for small spacecraft, like those needed to retrieve and ferry cargo at Phobos Station. The (literally) vital importance of ECLSS systems everywhere and to everyone on a dead and hostile planet makes them a target for import substitution at the earliest opportunity.

Once industry in general gets off the ground, the high cost of transporting even high-density, high-value components from Earth and Luna would drive import substitution in all areas. Local needs and transportation costs (along with MDA’s pesky port fees) incentivize the rapid expansion of local sources for everything required, not only bulky items like pressurized structures and wheels/treads but electronics, power generation and transmission, and even things like lubricants and coatings.

Could there realistically be a wholly local rover industry on Mars within fifteen years of the commencement of settlement? Something capable of manufacturing a hundred or more small and standard rovers and maybe a half-dozen Kharkovchanka-scale rovers every year? Again, there’s some artistic license involved here, but…why not?