It is no secret that Elon Musk SpaceX’s Martian plans are bold. They go far beyond exploration. They are about the Red Planet’s colonisation. Here is the goal: 1 million humans to settle on Mars! Is Elon just being Elon? Time will tell. In any case, the recent contract between NASA and the private company is paving the way for the ambitious project. Indeed, SpaceX’s skyrocket Starship was selected to land the next generation of American astronauts on the Moon. That is full-scale testing towards Mars. And no time is being wasted. SpaceX is currently searching for its best landing site on the Red Planet. Let’s check out where this could be!


But before, we need to understand what qualifies as a suitable landing site. Three main factors must be considered: engineering constraints, resources on the site and scientific interest.

Engineering constraints on Mars

First, you need to land safely. To do so, you must reduce the speed of a 100-ton rocket that reaches Mars at 7.5 km per second to nearly zero. For that purpose, your best friend is the atmosphere. It operates like a brake. Unfortunately, it is pretty thin on Mars: on average, less than 1% of the Earth's value. However, it varies considerably whether you land at the top of Olympus Mons (+22 000 meters) or the bottom of Hellas Planitia (-10 000 meters). Looking at Mars, most of the Southern hemisphere is made of high plateaus, while the Northern hemisphere is a dry ocean bed. That makes the latter a better candidate. Indeed, the time to reach the ground is extended. Plus: the lower you go, the thicker the atmosphere is, and the stronger your brake gets! Terrain must also be taken into consideration. It should be as flat as possible and boulder-free.

So, you have landed. The Martian adventure starts now. To facilitate the building and sustainability of infrastructures, a “decent” climate is helpful. Temperatures should be as high as possible for Mars. Near the equator, they can go up to 20 degrees in the daytime, dropping "only" to -100 at night. Being close to the equator also makes solar panels more efficient for energy production. Talking weather, it is best to stay away from areas subject to strong winds. They can trigger dust storms that can damage the material. Though they have been observed everywhere on the planet, they tend to be more present near the edge of the ice caps.

Perseverance Rover captures gusts of dust in Jezero Crater

Viking 2 Lander in rocky Utopia Planitia witnesses frost

Resources needed to survive on Mars

The next big thing is resources, the number one being water! Indeed, you need to drink something! Beyond killing thirst, water's magical formula - H2O - solves much more. H stands for Hydrogen, which you can extract to produce energy. O stands for Oxygen, which you use to breathe...

In the form of ice, it appears that water can be found everywhere on Mars. However, its extent, accessibility, and extractability vary considerably. To simplify, traces can hardly be found digging into the soil near the equator, while a pure water ice cap covers the North Pole. So, settling too close to the equator is not an option! But who wants to live in a place where it is entirely dark half the year and where temperatures are described as hot when they reach -120 degrees? There needs to be a compromise! And there is! Large stocks of ice have likely been preserved under thin layers of debris at mid-latitudes. Where exactly? Deep down into craters, in ancient riverbeds, under the shade of mountains...

Ice-rich lineated valley fill, lobate debris aprons, concentric crater fill and glacier-like forms

Mars Scientific Interests

The scientific interests could also be taken into consideration but it all depends on what you want to study. In the case of SpaceX, the main objective is human survival on Mars. So, anywhere will do as long as the first two factors are well considered.

A city on Mars - SpaceX

Which landing site for SpaceX on Mars?

To establish its target, SpaceX has collaborated with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the HiRISE camera team of the University of Arizona. Deuteronilus Mensae, Phlegra Montes, Erebus Montes, Utopia Planitia, Arcadia Planitia and Amazonis Planitia, all within 40 degrees north of the equator, were shortlisted and studied in detail. Many interesting landing sites were found East of Erebus Montes and in Arcadia Planitia. However, the recent investigation of resources at Phlegra Montes, led by the Colorado Schools of Mines, suggests that SpaceX is eying towards this region. Stretching from around Elysium Mons to Stokes Crater, Phlegra Montes is a beautiful territory that may have looked like the Japanese archipelago… long time ago!

Studied potential landing sites for SpaceX on Mars

Though no particular site has been selected yet, there is a good chance that those mentioned above will be subject to in-depth exploration. To do so, rovers with drilling capacities will be sent to the promising sites to assess resources first-hand.


Considered locations for future SpaceX landing on Mars


Candidate landing sites for SpaceX with HiRISE

Phlegra Montes with ESA

Phlegra Montes with the Colorado School of Mines

Erebus Montes on Wikipedia

Arcadia Planitia with ESA

Deuteronilus Mensae with ESA

Utopia Planitia with NASA

Amazonis Planitia with NASA

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