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SpaceX and Elon Musk’s mission to colonise Mars: Here’s how it will work

SpaceX and Tesla chief Elon Musk announced his plan for colonising Mars over the next 100 years.

By: Tech Desk |
Updated: September 28, 2016 2:45:02 pm
SpaceX, SpaceX Mars, Elon Musk, Elon Musk Mars plan, Elon Musk Mars spaceship, Mars, Mars colonisation, SpaceX Mars plan, Musk journey to mars, Elon Musk Multi-planet species, Elon Musk Mars SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has unveiled his grand plan to colonise Mars over the next 100 years. (Source: Reuters)

SpaceX and Tesla chief Elon Musk announced his plan for colonising Mars over the next 100 years, and how his company will make space travel much more affordable relying on reusable rockets and boosters. In Musk’s plan the space ship will be able to take 100 passengers plus cargo per voyage to Mars, and will rely on mid-orbit refueling.

According to Musk, the idea is to fly to Mars about every 26 months when Earth and Mars are favourably aligned. Musk revealed his plans at a presentation at the International Astronautical Congress meeting in Guadalajara. Here’s a detailed look at what Musk’s Mars colonisation plan is all about:

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So why Mars, and why do we need to move to a different planet?

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If you watch Elon Musk’s presentation video on the SpaceX YouTube channel, according to the SpaceX and Tesla boss, Earth will face a near extinction event at some point in time, “it will happen and it is inevitable.”

“History suggests some extinction event will take place,” says Musk in the video. So just in case Earth gets hit by a giant asteroid in the future or something else, this is Musk’s back up plan for all of human kind, one that plans to go beyond just colonising Mars but also looks at the future travel to other planets.

“I think Earth will be a good place for a long time, but the probable lifespan of human civilisation will be much greater if we’re a multiplanetary species,” he said. Musk is convinced humans will be able to colonise Mars during their lifetime, although he’s also looking at the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, but does admit they are too far off right now.

SpaceX, SpaceX Mars, Elon Musk, Elon Musk Mars plan, Elon Musk Mars spaceship, Mars, Mars colonisation, SpaceX Mars plan, Musk journey to mars, Elon Musk Multi-planet species, Elon Musk Mars Why Elon Musk wants to send us to Mars. (Source: SpaceX Presentation)

According to Musk, Mars is a lot like Earth, not too close to the Sun like say Mercury or Venus which are not inhabitable for other reasons as well. He also thinks humans could warm Mars up to create a “thick atmosphere and oceans,” in the future. Also gravity on Mars is 37 per cent that of Earth, which will make it fun to bounce around the planet, according to Musk. Also the day is close to that of the earth.

So how will this scheme of travelling to Mars work? How many people can go in the ship at one go?

Elon Musk wants to bring down the cost of travelling to space. “Our goal is to get it roughly equivalent to (the) cost of a median house in the United States, about $200,000,” says Musk. Still exorbitant for most of us, but much lower than the current cost of billions of dollars.

SpaceX will rely on reusable rockets and boosters to complete this. In a simulation video, the Spaceship is shown taking off with the booster at the bottom, mid-orbit the booster detaches and returns to Earth and lands vertically on the landing pad, just like the current Falcon 9 rockets.

Also read: SpaceX chief Elon Musk announces plan to colonise Mars

On Earth the refueling tanker is loaded on the booster and it meets with the spaceship which is refueled mid-flight. After the refueling the tanker returns to Earth, while the Spaceship propels forward. The Solar flares (with 200 kw of energy) also come out, and the ship move towards Mars.

SpaceX, SpaceX Mars, Elon Musk, Elon Musk Mars plan, Elon Musk Mars spaceship, Mars, Mars colonisation, SpaceX Mars plan, Musk journey to mars, Elon Musk Multi-planet species, Elon Musk Mars How the SpaceX flight to Mars will take place. (Source: SpaceX Presentation)

According to SpaceX’s presentation after travelling in interplanetary space, the ship enters the Mars atmosphere, either capturing into orbit or proceeding directly to landing.

SpaceX is using a new Raptor engine for Mars travel, which performs the final landing burn, and the ship can withstand the heating. The ship uses the PICA-family of heat shield materials used on the company’s Dragon spacecraft. Mars is nearly 225 million km from Earth and the journey to the planet will take six to nine months.

On the reusable vehicles and orbit refilling 

According to Musk, there’s a reason why they are refilling the spaceship in orbit. This reduces their costs by 5-10x, because otherwise they will need a three-stage vehicle. The SpaceX presentation says “spreading the required lift capacity across multiple launches substantially reduces development costs and compresses schedule.”

Read more: SpaceX accident ‘most difficult and complex’ in its history

Along with this the goal of the company is to rely on reusable rockets to reduce costs. The targeted reuse per vehicle is 1,000 per booster, 100 per tanker and 12 uses per ship. SpaceX claims the reusable ship will make it easier for people to return to Earth, thus keeping the cost low.

SpaceX is also using a new more powerful Raptor engine, and the rocket booster will have around 42 of these engines. According to Musk, he’s amazed it didn’t blow up in the first firing and their team has managed to test it. The booster for the spaceship will have a propellant mass of 6700 tonne.

SpaceX, SpaceX Mars, Elon Musk, Elon Musk Mars plan, Elon Musk Mars spaceship, Mars, Mars colonisation, SpaceX Mars plan, Musk journey to mars, Elon Musk Multi-planet species, Elon Musk Mars The new Raptor Engine which will be used in the Mars mission.

According to Musk, the Rocket Booster in the Mars mission is basically a scaled up version of the Falcon 9. The booster will accelerate the space ship to 8,650 km per hour. SpaceX wants to send an unmanned capsule called Red Dragon to the surface of Mars to test descent, entry and landing systems.

Red Dragon will learn how to transport and land large payloads on Mars, also look for resources like water, potential landing sites, and hazards and “demonstrate key surface capabilities on Mars.”

SpaceX is also looking at creating a propellant depot on Mars itself and the plan is to expand these. According to Musk, Mars has “unlimited supplies of carbon dioxide and water”, and they plan to use this to create oxygen and methane for the propellant fuel. This too will help keep the cost of the mission down.

When will the first flights to Mars begin? 

According to Elon Musk, “if things go superwell it could be in a ten-year frame,” but there’s no fixed time for that happening. They will try and send out Dragon 2 to Mars in the couple of years, and another mission in 2020.

SpaceX estimates the the average time for a trip to Mars by the year 2037 will be 115 days, and they hope to start in 2020 for sure, but again this depends on everything going all right which means getting the refuelling, landing right as well as getting it right with propellant.

SpaceX, SpaceX Mars, Elon Musk, Elon Musk Mars plan, Elon Musk Mars spaceship, Mars, Mars colonisation, SpaceX Mars plan, Musk journey to mars, Elon Musk Multi-planet species, Elon Musk Mars Musk admits that the timelines to Mars are a little fluid. (Source: AP)

So who will pay for all of this?  

“The number of people willing to move to Mars is much greater if they have the option of returning, even if they never do,” said Musk during the presentation.

“I’m personally accumulating assets in order to fund this,” he said, adding that “ultimately this is going to be a huge public-private partnership.”

NASA will be providing deep-space and Mars communications relays for SpaceX and consulting services in exchange for flight data. NASA wants to be able to land payloads weighing up to about 30 tons on Mars.  SpaceX has a backlog of more than 70 missions for commercial and government customers, worth more than $10 billion. According to NASA, their own plan is to send the first astronauts to Mars around 2035.

SpaceX, SpaceX Mars, Elon Musk, Elon Musk Mars plan, Elon Musk Mars spaceship, Mars, Mars colonisation, SpaceX Mars plan, Musk journey to mars, Elon Musk Multi-planet species, Elon Musk Mars SpaceX founder Elon Musk speaks during the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico. (Source: AP)

And beyond Mars 

“Dragon should be capable of landing on any solid-liquid system in the solar system,”says Elon Musk. The eventual plan is to go beyond into Jupiter or Saturn from Mars.

Will it be easy? 

Of course not, even Musk admits it will be dangerous, although he has ambitious plans of getting 1 million people on Mars.

As for being the first Martian, the risk of fatalities will be high — “there’s just no way around it” — and he wants to see his five young sons grow up. “It would be basically, are you prepared to die? If that’s OK, then you’re a candidate for going,” he told the audience.

With agency inputs

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