spaceSpace and Physics

Design A Martian City State And You Could Bag Yourself $10,000


What do you think a colony on Mars will look like? SpaceX

Last month, Elon Musk tweeted about SpaceX’s ambitious goal of landing a million people on Mars by 2050. Whilst more thought probably needs to be given to the processes of actually transporting people from Earth to the Red Planet, there is also the question of where they will live once they are there.

Film directors, artists, and scientists have postulated what colonies on Mars may look like. However, the Mars Society, a space advocacy organization dedicated to the human exploration and settlement of the planet, has just announced an international competition to design a city state on the planet for a capacity of 1 million people. There are also cash prizes for some of the top entries ranging from $10,000 for first place, to $500 for fifth.


Before you start reaching for the Lego bricks, you may want to read the guidance, as the contest seems a bit more serious than that.

In the no-more-than-20-page report submitted for the contest, participants have to demonstrate that their city state can produce all the food, clothing, shelter, power, common consumer products, vehicles, and machines for a population of 1 million. This means that all essential materials, like food, fabrics, steel, glass and plastics, will need to be built on Mars.

Last year's winner "Star City" showed what a living room in an underground tunnel on Mars could look like. Star City Team/ Delta Architects/ MIT

For a million inhabitants, more labor power will be necessary to produce these materials on a large enough scale, therefore entries are encouraged to think about the use of robots and artificial intelligence. Not only do these materials have to be made, but they also have to be crafted into structures. 3D printing and other advanced fabrication technologies are described as “essential” by the Mars Society.

“The city state has to be self-supporting to the maximum possible extent,” according to the website. This means that minimal exports from Earth should be transported to Mars, with only key components, such as advanced electronics. Especially when the cost of shipping between the planets is assumed to be between $200 and $500 per kilogram.


The technical design of the city state only accounts for 30 percent of the judging criteria. The rest of the scoring will come from other factors such as generating a successful economic system, building an aesthetic place to live, and describing the social, cultural, and political climate in the Martian colony.

Last year, the Mars Society ran a similar contest, however, the task was only to build a home for 1,000 residents. The winners were brothers George and Alexandros Lordos; the former a PhD candidate in the Engineering Systems Laboratory in MIT, and the latter the director of the Center for the Study of Life Skills and Resilience at the Department of Psychology at the University of Cyprus.

Meshing their knowledge together resulted in Star City. “The idea is to start with five distinct villages that will be constructed around the crater rim, each aiming for a population of 200 residents within a decade of the first landing, and originating from different Earth continents,” George Lordos told MIT. “The five villages will interconnect their tunnel networks and focus on continuous growth of their habitats, capabilities, stocks of resources, and quality of life.”

Still fancy your chances this year? Well you have until June 30, 2020 to enter. In the words of Obi-Wan Kenobi: “May the force be with you.”



spaceSpace and Physics