Landing rockets back on the ground? People shrugged and said it wasn’t possible. SpaceX (and Elon Musk) proved them wrong. Building a colony on Mars? We know better than to doubt SpaceX. Their timeline? Sure. But I’m not betting against Musk and company.
The ‘Interplanetary Transport System.’ Meet SpaceX’s vehicle to creating a massive Martian colony. The spaceship’s size is staggering. Musk says there will be enough room for 100 or more people along with up to 450 tons of cargo. Here’s a flythrough animation of the crew compartment.
“It’s quite big,” said Musk. “It really needs to be roughly this order or magnitude.” But also fun. You can’t tell people to risk their lives for a boring trip. Though, you would think going to Mars would be exciting enough right? Musk says the crew will enjoy zero-g games, movies, a restaurant and more.
You might die, but at least you’ll have Netflix.
42 Raptor engines. SpaceX just test fired this engine for the first time. To lift 100-ish people and hundreds of tons of gear and supplies, the first stage booster will use an array of 42 Raptor engines to push the huge spacecraft into Earth’s orbit.
Together, the cluster of Raptor engines will produce a liftoff thrust of 28.6 million pounds-force. That’s more than three times greater than the mighty Saturn V rocket that took humans beyond Earth for the first time.
The spacecraft will also be equipped with another nine Raptor engines. Three ‘sea-level’ versions and six vacuum versions optimized for deep space.
Reusability is key. SpaceX has brought six rockets back to Earth. Knowledge gained here will be instrumental in their plans for the Interplanetary Transport System.
The rocket isn’t finished once it places the spacecraft in orbit. It’ll come back down, grab a huge tank of fuel and head back up to rendezvous with the spacecraft. Once it’s filled up, the spacecraft begins its journey to Mars.
Reusability extends to the spacecraft. The costs of setting up a Mars colony are too high if each mission is one-way. Plus, what if a Mars colonist gets homesick. Having the option to come back to Earth would go a long way into getting more people to volunteer. Once SpaceX proves a trip to the red planet is safe, that is.
Are you prepared to die? Damn Elon, you’re trying to sell why we should go to Mars. Not convincing us to stay on Earth. Jokes aside, the first set of people heading to Mars will be venturing into the unknown. With no one but themselves to count on.
“The first journey to Mars is going to be really very dangerous,” said Musk. “The risk of fatality will be high, there’s just no way around it.”
“It would be basically: are you prepared to die? And if that’s okay then you’re a candidate for going.”
Protecting life. Mars is more than just a goal for Musk.
“The thing that really matters is making a self sustaining civilization on Mars as fast as possible. [It’s about] protecting life, and ensuring that the line of consciousness is not extinguished which I think is incredibly important.”
And it’s about inspiring people. Proving we can do it. “Life needs to be more than just solving problems every day,” said Mus. “You need to wake up and be excited about the future, and be inspired, and want to live.”
If a trip to Mars doesn’t get your blood flowing, I don’t know what would.
To Mars in 80 days. That’s the quickest in the near future. The average time will be about 115 days.
Less than $200,000 per person. That’s the power of reusability says Musk. If you went with more old-school methods, you’re looking at $10 billion/person according to Musk. The way SpaceX is approaching it, the system could put people on Mars at less than $200,000/person. The big word is ‘could,’ but that’s SpaceX’s goal.
Right now, only a small part of SpaceX is working on the Mars plan. Under five percent according to Musk. “We’re spending a few tens of millions of dollars right now on it. It’s relatively small.”
Most of SpaceX’s engineering team will shift to the interplanetary system as work finalizes on the Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon programs. Musk expects this to happen in the next two years. Once that happens, SpaceX will be burning through about $300 million/year on the system. He estimates an investment of about $10 billion to get the interplanetary system working and working reliably.
An optimistic timeline. Musk has said the first crewed mission to Mars could launch in late 2024. He admits the date is optimistic, but “that said, I don’t think it will be significantly beyond that.”
Here’s a look at SpaceX’s timeline for the next ten years.
The problem with launching to Mars is timing. If SpaceX misses the 2024 launch window, they won’t be able to try again until early 2027. Earth and Mars’ orbits have to line up to make launches feasible. That’s why there are launch windows.
Watching it as it unfolds. This is almost the coolest part for me. We’ve seen SpaceX go from hovering a rocket a few hundred feet above the ground in Texas to launching cargo to the ISS. And bringing the rocket back down onto a floating platform in the Atlantic Ocean.
We saw the first images of them testing their new Raptor engine. In a few more years, we’ll see the first booster tests equipped with that new engine. It’s going to be awesome to follow all the progress as it happens.
In the meantime, SpaceX is shooting to get back in space in November after their latest rocket mishap. Let’s hope that’s the last problem they have for a while. I want to see a Mars base before I’m too damn old to see it.
Watch his speech on Mars and beyond below.