Earth-Mars trade will likely be the primary form of commerce for the first Martian settlements. This trade is limited by the great distance between Earth and Mars, and the enormous cost of lifting goods out of the gravity well of the two planets. The majority of the commerce will necessarily be information-based. However, Robert Zubrin, in his book "The Case for Mars", calculated that physical products that cost as much or more than gold / kg, could be sent to Earth profitably.
- 1 Short-Term Business Models
- 1.1 Information Services
- 1.2 Financial Services
- 1.3 Science
- 1.4 Consumer Goods and Services
- 1.5 Real Estate
- 2 Physical Materials
Short-Term Business Models
Initial business models could resemble those similar to the ones used by many small nations, such as the Vatican, Monaco, San Marino, and some Pacific islands. Like the first Martian settlements, these nations cannot rely on large pools of labor, infrastructure, or abundant natural resources.
People could buy the .mars domain.
Established colonies can advise governments and corporations in their own exploration/colonization efforts.
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Flag of Convenience
As on Earth, a sovereign martian state can sell ship registration. Initially, this would apply only to marine vessels, but it may be expanded to space vessels in the future. A vessel's registration determines which laws are in effect for its occupants when it is in international waters.
A settlement can lease space and sell resources to governments or institutions that want to send their scientists to Mars. If Martian colonists invent local technology (example, radiation hardened electronics), then the patents for such products to be licensed to Earth firms.
Research for Hire
Skilled settlers could be paid to do scientific research.
Hazardous Research Facility
An irradiated near-vacuum environment is a near-perfect biological barrier . Any facility would necessarily be isolated from the colony, of course. It would be the perfect location for biotechnology research without the risk to terrestrial life.
Martian scientists and professors can record lectures and presentations that can be sold to schools, colleges, and universities.
Consumer Goods and Services
People on Mars will be earning money on Earth. All of a settlement's initial population needs to come from Earth, and they will own properties on Earth that generate revenue that they will spend on Mars. A business owner can own a chain of shoe stores and live and spend his profits on Mars. A real estate owner can collect rent from Earth, and spend it on Mars. A shareholder, or anyone with any form of pension, can get revenue from Earth and spend it on Mars. And some of the things that they buy will come from Earth.
An experienced manufacturer might buy equipment on Earth for local production on Mars. As soon as in-situ resources are available, transforming these resources into products become a viable proposition. So machines will be bought on Earth and moved to Mars.
Electronics can be bought on Earth and moved to Mars to incorporate into local products. Rare Earth metals, catalysts, vitamins and minerals, dyes and inks can all be made on Earth and transported to Mars to complete local products.
Reality shows, etc.
While Mars itself cannot be trademarked, likenesses of the settlement/settlers could be. Possibilities include stamps, coins, playsets, etc. First colonists would likely gain celebrity status. These goods would be manufactured on Earth, due to the cost savings.
Companies may pay to place a logo on a wall, use "the official << insert commercial product here >> of Mars" in advertising.
Ensure your genetic legacy by sending your sperm/eggs/embryos to Mars. Having descendants on two worlds is more secure.
While historically not the most respectable business, an actual presence on Mars lends much more credibility to the transaction.
People might pay to have their ashes buried on Mars.
The key driver for what products can be shipped from Mars to Earth is the cost of doing so. As of this writing (2021, March), gold costs ~$75,000 / kg and could be profitably shipped back to Earth with today's technology. However, Sky ramps, Mass drivers, or Space elevators could all significantly decrease the cost of shipping goods to Earth. Further bulk goods, that can be stored inexpensively in vacuum, might ship cheaper than items that require life support.
Gold, Platinium, Iridium, and other high valuable metals could be shipped back to Earth at a profit. Given that Mars will likely have unexploited metal ores, this may form an early part of Mars' economy.
Deuterium is 'heavy hydrogen' (with one neutron rather than the more normal zero neutrons). It is found in hydrogen (normally part of water), and is 4 times more common on Mars than on Earth. If Fusion reactors were to be invented, it might be worthwhile to ship Deuterium from Mars to Earth.
It is likely that opals will be found on Mars, and other gemstones are possible. People might be willing to pay a premium for gems from another world. Some gems (such as large diamonds), could be shipped from Mars to Earth profitably, without requiring a premium.