NOW LET’S SEE IF HE CAN MAKE IT REALITY
In Mexico yestreday, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk outlined his company’s plans to take humanity to Mars.
Speaking at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, he unveiled a mission architecture that is bold, inspiring, and a little crazy. It all centers around the Interplanetary Transport System–a 55-foot-wide pod-shaped spaceship designed to carry 100 people or 100 tons of cargo–that would ride into orbit on a really big freakin’ rocket. And he hopes the two could take off on a journey to Mars in as little as 10 years, although he acknowledges that timeline depends on a lot of factors.
Reusability and choosing the right propellant type will also be key. The new rocket will run on methane, because that’s easy to produce on Mars to fuel return trips to Earth, and it doesn’t require loads of insulation and cryogenic cooling the way a liquid hydrogen fuel would.
As for the spaceship itself, Musk says it could carry up to 450 tons of stuff to Mars. NASA has previously estimated we’d need 100 tons or more, so that seems like a good start to seed a colony of 1 million people, which Musk hopes to achieve over time. The spaceship could see its first test flights within about 4 years, with the first flights to Mars shortly thereafter.
The spaceship could eventually make the journey from Earth to Mars in 30 to 80 days, according to Musk. And it doesn’t have to stop there. Since the vehicle can refuel in orbit, SpaceX could potentially set up fuel depots in strategic locations to send the Interplanetary Transport System beyond Mars.
“This system really gives you freedom to go anywhere you want in the solar system,” said Musk. “I wouldn’t recommend this for interstellar journeys, but this system–provided we have filling stations along the way–means full access to the entire greater solar system.” In particular, he’s eyeing a mission to Europa–something we actually suggested a few days ago.