Colonization of Ceres

Ceres

Ceres is a small dwarf planet located in the asteroid belt. Ceres might be one of the first places settled by humans, because of its strategically important position, and also because of its small gravity, which makes leaving Ceres inexpensive. Colonizing Ceres, even temporarily, could be possible in just a few decades.

Properties

Physical properties

The diameter of Ceres is only approximately 950 kilometres, which is about one fourth of the diameter of the Moon. Even though Ceres accounts for the third of the mass of the asteroid belt, its mass is only about 4 % of the mass of the Moon. Gravity experienced on Ceres is about 3 % of the gravity on sea level of Earth.

Even though Ceres is small, its gravity has been sufficient to make it almost round shaped. Ceres has an area which equals approximately the land area of India on Earth. Ceres does not have a magnetic field, which would protect it from the space radiation.

The internal structure of Ceres is not yet well known. It probably has an inner core, which is composed of rocks. The mantle of Ceres is though to consist mostly of frozen water. The composition of mantle hasn’t been accurately measured, so it might be possible, that its not ice. On top of the mantle, there is a crust that is mostly dust and other elements.

Orbit and rotation

Ceres is located in the asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter. It orbits the Sun in approximately 4,5 years. Ceres rotates around it axle quite fast, as one rotation takes just a little over 9 hours. The fast rotational speed is an upside, as when using solar power, the need for energy storage during the nights is smaller.

Geology

Landscape in Ceres resembles the landscape of other asteroids. The ground has a lot of minerals, that also contain water. There are some craters and other interesting geological features on the surface of Ceres, but there are no mountains, for example. The crust of the Ceres might not contain a lot of valuable minerals, but as the composition is not yet well known, we can’t be sure.

Atmosphere

There are a few sources of water vapour in Ceres, which might help it to have a thin atmosphere. However, the atmosphere, if it exists, is not strong, and does not effect human colonization of the dwarf planet.

Climate

Ceres is located relatively close to Sun, so the temperatures are still somewhat bearable. The average temperature on Ceres is about -100 °C, but at times the temperatures can rise as high as -35 °C. The temperatures are not pleasant for humans, but not impossibly cold either. Humans, for the lack of atmosphere, would need to use protective suits either way.

Colonization

Transport

Going to Ceres is relatively fast, which makes it an interesting object regarding the human colonization. According to one plan, a round-trip to Ceres with manned crew could be made in just under two years. During the two years, there would also be sufficient time to examine the planet. Therefore, long travel times would not present a huge problem. The small gravity of Ceres would allow inexpensive travel, as the speed required to exit its gravitational field is relatively small.

Habitats

There are multiple possible ways to build habitats on Ceres. Probably the most convenient way would be to build the first habitats from modules, as many plans to colonize the Moon suggest. When the first modules would have been built, the colony could be expanded on the surface and also underground. The modules should be properly shielded against coldness and space radiation.

Energia

Using solar energy on Ceres would most likely be possible. However, as the distance to Sun is quite large, there might be better options available. Fission nuclear reactors and the fuel required for them could be brought from Earth. Transporting the reactor would be quite expensive, but fuel could be transported relatively cheaply.

Communications

Because of the distance, radio signals take a while to reach Ceres from Earth. When the two planets are closest, the messages will be delivered in around ten minutes. At the farthest position, the delay would be just over half an hour. Because of this, using robots controlled from Earth to build the base is very hard.

Resources

More knowledge is still needed to get an extensive idea of resources offered by Ceres. However, we know that there are many elements required for life, such as water, already available. Having water is important, because oxygen can also be manufactured from it. The surface of Ceres might contain many valuable minerals.

The most important resource of Ceres, however, might be its strategical position in the asteroid belt. Asteroid belt might contain many objects, that are very rich in minerals. Ceres might serve as an base on the asteroid belt, where resources could be refined and transported back to earth.

Terraforming

It might be possible to terraform Ceres, but it won’t be an easy task. We could try to create an artificial greenhouse effect with greenhouse gases to make the temperatures bearable to humans. After this, the atmosphere could be refined to make it breathable for humans. Small size of Ceres would pose a problem, as the atmosphere would slowly drift away in to space.

Radiation might also pose a problem, so even though the planet would be otherwise terraformed, humans couldn’t freely move on the surface of the planet safely. If Ceres consists of large amounts of frozen water, as we think, terraforming could result to whole Ceres becoming a huge ocean. This would require building of artificial islands and continents.

Summary

Ceres is an interesting dwarf planet, mostly because of its location. It could serve as an base for mining operations in the asteroid belt. Because of the small gravity, leaving Ceres would be relatively inexpensive, so resources could be brought back to Earth easily. Ceres also contains water, which is important for humans.

The cold temperatures that are not favourable to humans might become a problem. Also, Ceres experiences heavy radiation, so radiation shielding should be taken into account. Terraforming Ceres could be possible, but with current technology, its still just a wishful thinking.