Elon Musk is going to Mars. It’s not so much an opinion as what now appears to be a statement of fact.
The entrepreneur was speaking at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) and has now shared an update on his vision for Mars and how SpaceX plans to go there.
Whereas last year’s presentation gave us a small taste of what Musk had in mind, this update now gives us a pretty strong idea of how he’s going to do it.
You can watch the full presentation here, but for those of you who just want it in summarised form here are 10 things we’ve learnt about SpaceX’s mission to Mars.
1. Interplanetary Transport System (ITS)
The Interplanetary Transport System is important for two reasons: It actually looks like a spaceship from our imagination and secondly, it’s actually possible to build one.
So often spacecraft are ugly, utilitarian and cramped. The ITS is none of these things.
It weighs around 85 tonnes has more pressurised space than an Airbus A380 and can accomodate up to 100 passengers throughout an array of 40 cabins.
Powering it is collection of SpaceX’s Raptor rockets while two extendable solar arrays help provide the power needed to keep the ship running during long voyages.
2. The BFR (Don’t Ask)
Of course to get the world’s largest spacecraft into space you’re also going to need a pretty massive rocket as well.
SpaceX is building one, it’s called the BFR which is short for exactly what you think it is. It’s bigger than both of NASA’s largest ever rockets the Saturn V and SLS and is capable of lifting 150 tonnes.
The BFR is completely reusable which means that once it sends the ITS into orbit it can re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and land itself just like Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy before it.
It’s also fantastically powerful, using a staggering 31 Raptor rockets to send it into space. To give you some idea of just how powerful that is, here’s just one of them being tested.
3. The Timeline
Speaking at the conference, Musk called his timeline for Mars aspirational. That being said, if there’s one person that can pull it off it’s Musk.
The ITS and BFR are already in the planning stages and Musk confirmed that SpaceX plans to start building both in around 6-9 months.
Five years later and we should have our first combination of BFR and ITS ready for testing and flight.
In 2022 SpaceX plans to send two unmanned ITS spacecraft to Mars as a test run and to drop supplies on the planet. Two years after that the Mars launch window will open again and Space X plans to send four missions to Mars.
This would be two cargo missions containing the equipment needed both to build a base and set up a primitive fuel generation facility. The last two missions will be manned, sending a crew of human beings to the red planet.
From there Musk sees us building a small base, and then things just get bigger and bigger until you have…
A mission to Mars isn’t going to be cheap, and Musk knows that to even have a hope of funding this he’s going to have to keep SpaceX as a profitable private enterprise.
The cost then will come from SpaceX’s continuing role as a private cargo and launch platform. With a fleet of tried and tested Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, customers can use their existing fleet while Musk will start opening up the market for businesses to use the BFR and ITS platform within Earth’s orbit.
The ITS is enormous, making it a potential game-changer for sending satellites, scientific equipment and even space station parts into space.
As businesses become more comfortable using this new spaceship Musk plans to devote all the company’s resources into servicing and building even more ITS and BFR components.
By scrapping Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and focusing entirely on these two platforms Musk believes it can move at a faster pace and also reduce the cost of missions.
So much so that this is every spacecraft system ranked from lowest cost on the left to the highest cost on the right.
Last but not least is Earth. In typical Musk and SpaceX fashion, the team didn’t just look at the BFR and ITS in terms of space travel they also looked to see what would happen if they used it here on Earth.
What they found was pretty impressive: A form of travel that could move people from one point to any other on the globe in less than an hour.
Surely this would just be a service for the ultra-rich? Think again. Musk believes that it could eventually cost as little as a standard Economy plane ticket.
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