My space colonists have just travelled to a new planet, and they will be landing using shuttles. The shuttles are water-based (like a seaplane) and the colony is/will be set up on a river near the sea. While travelling overseas, I realised that this would likely be quite similar to an airport. Unfortunately, wikipedia's page on "seaplane base" is exactly one sentence.
The space-port does not need to be long-term-re-usable, as no spacecraft other than the colonists will be arriving. Similarly, it only has to handle incoming goods.

Currently my plan is for first shuttles to land containing mostly equipment and construction workers. They will build accommodation and whatever is needed to handle all the colonists.

Technology level is a few decades in advance of present time. The spacecraft is STL, and the journey was 'meerly' decades of shipboard time. The shuttles have the capacity of a 737-800 (20 tonne cargo or 200 passengers). There are ten shuttles and ten thousand colonists.

What do they build and what equipment do they need to do their construction?
The things I think they will be building include (in construction order):

  • A control/communications tower
  • A nuclear reactor (fission) for electricity
  • A refinery (water -> hydrogen+oxygen. Supplies shuttles and ground-based-vehicles)
  • A cement factory (so they can make concrete)
  • Rescue boats and facilities
  • Wharf's and Quays
  • A "dry dock" for servicing the shuttles
  • Baggage handling systems
  • Lots of housing

And I think the equipment/supplies that needs to be dropped includes (in drop order):

  • Radio equipment
  • Hand construction equipment (pickaxes, shovels etc.)
  • A backhoe loader, a road roller and a mini crane (powered by hydrogen)
  • The nuclear reactor and uranium fuel for it
  • The hydrogen refinery
  • Any refined materials for construction (eg metals, plastics)
  • The rescue boats

What have I missed? What is extra? Is there a better order?

  • $\begingroup$ I'm not seeing any mention of farming or food supply. $\endgroup$
    – wetcircuit
    Feb 11, 2018 at 18:44
  • $\begingroup$ How does your 737-800 sized "shuttle" get off the ground to go back in orbit to pick up more cargo ? Do you have any idea how large a launch facility would be required to do this, not to mention fuel ? This is probably the biggest problem because it's a huge undertaking. And with tech at the 30+ years ahead of our level, I don't consider this viable unless you have a specific tech advancement in mind that needs to be described to handle the question, IMO. It could take as long as two or three years to build a launch facility as we understand them. $\endgroup$ Feb 11, 2018 at 20:33
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    $\begingroup$ @wetcircuit: in this question assume they have enough food. They've just spent decades between stars in a STL transport. They have the enough food for now through the same means they had it for the journey (though they do have to ship it down from space until local industry can provide it) $\endgroup$
    – sdfgeoff
    Feb 11, 2018 at 22:19
  • $\begingroup$ @StephenG: The shuttles take off from water and are fueled by hydrogen/oxygen split from water. Thus the shuttles need water and electricity+refinary to operate $\endgroup$
    – sdfgeoff
    Feb 11, 2018 at 22:21
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    $\begingroup$ The shuttles will also need a bloody great booster to employ that fuel mixture to get to orbit. Think Saturn V size (larger) and gantry and support systems to match. I'd suggest using e.g. one way "bouncing ball" type landers for supplies and people - something you can store by the thousands in your ship and not worry about dropping. Like this but larger. So no shuttles back and forth, just one way "disposable" drop ships. $\endgroup$ Feb 11, 2018 at 22:40

2 Answers 2


Are we talking about an earthlike planet? Breathable atmosphere? Then there are plants, or there wouldn't be oxygen, and probably animals as well.

  • Hedgerow cutters, mowers and fences. Clear an area, fence it, probably with lights on the fences. The colonists won't know which animals are cute and while are lethal.
  • A floating quay, a few bridge segments, and beach mats. No need to go for concrete if there are just 100-200 landings or so. Google combat engineers.
  • The nuclear reactor. It might be feasible a couple of decades from now, or not. Today nuclear power plants are difficult technology compared to other power sources, requiring scores of qualified personnel. They need coolant (water from the river?) which requires pipes and pumps. They usually draw power from a power grid for the time when they are not up and running. Consider acres of solar cells, or hydropower. (Of course hydropower needs earthmoving first, too ...)
  • The dry dock. If your shuttles shuttle between the surface and the ship in orbit, and while most of your tech base is in orbit, do any maintenance in space.
  • The resuce boats. Forget them. You might want tugs, and they can double for rescue work if and when that happens.
  • Baggage handling systems. I think a flat, dry place and some tarps will do.

If you have a shirt-sleeves environment, you have lots of manpower at first. Those geneticists who will adapt earth grains, the prospectors and miners who will get ore and coal to start a metal-based industry, they are all manual laborers until everything is unloaded.

Generally, don't cripple your long-term efforts for a little short-term comfort. Nuclear power is not the way to go. Probably not hydrogen-oxygen fuel for ground vehicles, but the shuttles might make it necessary. How about alcohol-based biofuels for the jeeps and trucks? Alcohol is much easier to handle and to store than hydrogen, either liquid or pressurized.

Do they know about the ecology before they arrive? If there are treelike plants and they are harmless, plan to build lots and lots of housing from native wood. Perhaps with imported tarps to waterproof the roof. Or turf houses.

A reasonably complete hospital will be early in the process. It could be that humans have allergic reactions to something in the environment. If so, they need to pinpoint it quickly.

Bring just a few different vehicle types, and never just one of a kind. If that one breaks, you have a problem, and it won't be economical to bring spares for everything that might break. Perhaps a jeep type, a smallish truck type, and an agricultural tractor type with different attachments (plows, reapers, trailers, ...).

  • $\begingroup$ I like the idea of hydropower as they are building on a river, and good point on the hospital (and many other things). However, I'm not sure that tarps will be adequate for the logistics of 10,000 people - but I guess the military probably does it this way. Also, a shuttle needing repair may not be able to get to space for the needed work. $\endgroup$
    – sdfgeoff
    Feb 11, 2018 at 22:17
  • $\begingroup$ @sdfgeoff, how much mass do you plan to land? Extreme case, each colonist gets food until first harvest, a bag of seed corn, an axe, a scythe, a knife and a bag of nails. Parts of America were settled with not much more than that. Other extreme, you are going to bring a million tons of cargo. My guesstimate was in between, roughly a ton per person. Perhaps 100 vehicles total, some fairly complete machine shops, etc. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Feb 12, 2018 at 5:59
  • $\begingroup$ I just did some back-of-envelope math on the hydrodam. Even a pretty wimpy hydrodam (2m high, 4m3/s flow at 100% efficiency generation/electrolysis) could fuel the space shuttle every month or so. The nile river could easily launch a space shuttle per day with the same 2m dam even with single-digit-efficiency. We're landing 10,000 colonists so the launch time of the shuttles needs to average about a launch per week to land everyone in a single year. Ideally you need higher than this to avoid launches in winter and to get down supplies for them as well. $\endgroup$
    – sdfgeoff
    Feb 16, 2018 at 20:56

Even now some equipment is built entirely by robots. So if it is the future then people build robots and robots build everything. Or even you just program universal robots to build specialized robots to build specific buildings.

Currently Mars and the space of the solar system is populated only by highly automated robots. Most likely humans will be a rare resource in comparison to robots when the first humans arrive on a planet.


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