Colonization of Ceres

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The dwarf planet Ceres has been proposed[1] as one possible target for human colonization in the inner Solar System.

Physical conditions[edit]

Space colonization

Ceres is a dwarf planet in the asteroid belt, constituting about one third of the mass of the whole asteroid belt and being the sixth-largest body in the inner Solar System by mass and volume. It has a round shape, and a surface gravitational acceleration about 2.8% that of Earth. It has a surface area approximately 1.9% of Earth's dry land, slightly larger than the total land area of Argentina. Observations indicate that it contains large amounts of water ice,[2][3] about one-tenth of the total water in Earth's oceans. The solar irradiance of 150 W/m2 at aphelion, one ninth that on Earth, is high enough for solar-power facilities.[1]

Strategic location[edit]

Being the largest body in the asteroid belt, Ceres could become the main base and transport hub for future asteroid mining infrastructure,[1] allowing mineral resources to be transported to Mars, the Moon, and Earth.

Its colonization also could become a step on the way to the colonization of the objects in the outer Solar System, such as the moons of Jupiter. Because of its small escape velocity combined with large amounts of water ice, it also could serve as a source of water, fuel, and oxygen for ships going through and beyond the asteroid belt.[1]

The establishment of a permanent colony on Ceres might precede colonization of the Moon or Mars because the far deeper gravity wells of those bodies add dramatically to the cost and risk of colonization. As a consequence of a greater semi-major axis, Ceres has much more frequent launch windows to/from cislunar space than to/from Mars (the synodic period is 1 year 3.3 months compared to 2 years 1.6 months), and a Hohmann transfer takes 1 year and 3.5 months.[4][improper synthesis?] Transportation from Mars or the Moon to Ceres would be even more energy-efficient than transportation from Earth to the Moon.[5]

Potential difficulties[edit]

To scale, from left to right, Pluto, Charon, Ceres, Earth
4 Vesta, Ceres, and the Moon

Because Ceres is not known to have a magnetic field, it is not shielded from cosmic rays or other forms of radiation. Additionally, Ceres does not have a significant atmosphere. The low levels of solar insolation relative to Mars may also affect colonization. Ceres is roughly twice as far from the Sun as Mars (2.56–2.97 AU vs. 1.38–1.67 AU), so solar collectors must have four times the surface area to produce the same power level as on Mars (inverse square law). On the other hand, Ceres rotates much more quickly than Mars (9 hr vs 24.6 hr), so the need for night-time energy storage is less.[6]

The delta-v budget requirement for reaching Ceres from Earth is somewhat higher than what is necessary to reach Mars, however as demonstrated by the Dawn mission, it is feasible to enter Ceres orbit using only ion propulsion. Finally, the surface gravity on Ceres is roughly 0.028 g, which leads to concerns about the negative health effects of long-term weightlessness.

The surface of Ceres
Map of Ceres from the Dawn spacecraft.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Lewis, John S. (2 Feb 2015). Asteroid Mining 101. 
  2. ^ Bjorn Carey. Largest Asteroid Might Contain More Fresh Water than Earth
  3. ^ Thomas, P. C. et al. (2005). "Differentiation of the asteroid Ceres as revealed by its shape". Nature 437 (7056): 224–226. Bibcode:2005Natur.437..224T. doi:10.1038/nature03938. PMID 16148926. 
  4. ^ Atomic Rocket: Mission Table
  5. ^ Robert Zubrin. The Economic Viability of Mars Colonization PDF (146 KB)
  6. ^ Williams, David R. (2004). "Asteroid Fact Sheet". Archived from the original on 18 January 2010.