Today marked a big day for Elon Musk, SpaceX and those of us whom have grown to love Elon and all things SpaceX have been waiting for. Speaking for myself, I heard about this announcement of Elon Musks plans for colonization of Mars early this year but information about how to get there have been kept under lock and key. The event was held at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico. The event was streamed live online through the SpaceX YouTube channel, and various other spaceflight and other sites.
The event was supposed to begin at 2:30pm, and I had the SpaceX channel up on the television, and I pulled out my phone to view the live feed to read some of the comments as the time of the event to begin came and went. I was already getting hungry at the time, and by 2:50pm came around, I could begin to feel my stomach talking to me about revolting if I don’t get some food soon. The people who were commenting online were also getting impatient but our wait was finally over at 3pm. There was a lot of information given, and I just wanted to give you a summary of things that were discussed that I found interesting.
First of all, with the launch of the Falcon Heavy, which is now scheduled for early 2017, will mark the beginning of the clock for the first steps to mars. The Falcon Heavy rocket will launch a version of the crew Dragon capsule dubbed “Red Dragon” in May 2018 that will journey to Mars and basically test the idea of propulsive landing on Mars. This landing approach the Dragon 2 capsule will fire its Draco thrusters to slow the capsule down for a gentle touchdown. This has never been done before, especially with such a massive spacecraft. NASA will gather a lot of data for use of it’s own Mars ambitions, but will happen a decade later than SpaceX’s ambitious schedule. From that first mission, there will be a launch to Mars via the Falcon Heavy/”Red Dragon” capsule every 2 years or 26 months. There will be various payloads on these missions, but none were discussed.
Next comes what this presentation was really about, the rocket, lovingly called “BFR” on the chart, short for “Big F**king Rocket”. This behemoth of a rocket will stand, with the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS) on top will be around 400 feet tall. That will be taller than the legendary Saturn V rocket, and will rival the final configuration of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, that will debut no later than November 2018. Seems like 2018 will be a very exciting year as far as the future of this country space endeavors both government and privately industry. The rocket will be powered by 42 methane and oxygen-fed Raptor engines that will have a thrust around 28 million pounds of thrust, which is the thrust margin for its launch pad, former Apollo and Space Shuttle launch pad 39A. Now, Apollo was just shy of 8 million pounds of thrust, and the Shuttle was around 7.8 million pounds, so I can’t even imagine the power that will be felt when people view the launch of this monster of a rocket. The reason for so many engines will be for redundancy in case of engine out issues during launch.
The Interplanetary Transport System (ITS) spacecraft is a monster of its own. It will stand 162.4 feet tall and will be at its widest point, 55.8 feet in diameter. This will also carry liquid oxygen and methane to feed its own set of Raptor engines (9 all together). This spacecraft will be able to carry at least 100 passengers to Mars, but will probably carry 200 to bring down the cost. Elon’s goal is to make Mars self-sustaining, but didn’t get much into how that would happen, but mainly focused on the transportation. There will be a fleet of these ships in orbit, around 1,000 to all leave at one time when Earth and Mars are in the right positions. So here’s how one of these ships will be launched.
- The BFR will be on Launch Pad 39A with the ITS on top and will be launched. The first stage will return to Earth and will land back on the launch mount on Launch Complex 39A. The ITS will coast to a parking orbit.
- The first stage returns to the launch mount on Launch Pad 39A.
- An propellant tanker that is identical to the ITS will be placed on top of the first stage and re-fueling of the first and launch in the matter of hours.
- The first stage returns to the launch site again and the tanker rendezvous with the ITS and begins fueling the empty, or near empty tanks. The ITS will be launched with no or very little fuel to save in cost and better performance of the first stage rocket.
- The tanker will return to earth to be used again.
This will be used many times over a few years to get the fuel needed for the journey to Mars.
Now, the cost of this will be enormous, but SpaceX will divert a lot more money towards the ITS and the Super Heavy Lift Rocket (which is an beefed up version of the Falcon 9) in two years. SpaceX has money from the satellite launches, and carrying payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station. Hopefully people will help with the goal with a sort of Kick Start program and businesses in industry here in America and abroad. Elon did say “no one company can do this alone.” Today, a ticket to Mars would be around $10 billion per ticket, but with the use ability to reuse the rockets and other factors will drive down the cost. He would like to eventually like to see the cost be around $200,000 per ticket, but could drop just below $100,000 as time goes on and experience is gained. Plus with 200 people going at a time will be a big help in lowering the price per trip as well. One of the factors of the price per ticket will be how much cargo you’ll take with you.
This would not be a one-way ticket. The first few trips will be very risky, and people who believe and think the risk is worth it will be the first people to take the trips to the Red Planet.
The reason why Musk says this is an important venture to become a multi-planet species because one day, in some distant future, an extinction event will happen and for humanity to survive, we need to spread out across the solar system. To me, Elon Musk is a revolutionary figure that hopefully history will view as important as Thomas Edison or Albert Einstein. He is revolutionizing the rocket business and he could be our version of Star Trek: First Contact’s Zefram Cochran, hopefully less drunk and keeps his spunk.
Today, Elon Musk delivered a speech that set my imagination on fire and made me excited for what’s to come. The time table of around 2024 to send the first people to Mars, to me, seems a huge challenge, especially what challenges they are facing right now with the loss of the Falcon 9 on September 1st due to a likely breach in the helium system. I believe SpaceX will lead the way, especially since Elon helped bring the company from virtually nothing to the major player it is today.