Space

Elon Musk presents updated plan for Mars colonization

Artist's concept of Mars City
Artist's concept of Mars City
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BFR compared to previous Falcon configurations
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BFR compared to previous Falcon configurations
BFR and Mars ship
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BFR and Mars ship
Specification of the SpaceX passenger ship
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Specification of the SpaceX passenger ship
Interior of the Mars Transport
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Interior of the Mars Transport
Mars Transport payload section
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Mars Transport payload section
Mars Transport propulsion system
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Mars Transport propulsion system
Mars Transport engines
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Mars Transport engines
Flight cost of BFR compared to other boosters
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Flight cost of BFR compared to other boosters
SpaceX is opting for a Transport vehicle that is multipurpose, so it can be used to carry either a single large payload the size of the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit, or many smaller payloads
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SpaceX is opting for a Transport vehicle that is multipurpose, so it can be used to carry either a single large payload the size of the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit, or many smaller payloads
Artist's concept of Moon base Alpha
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Artist's concept of Moon base Alpha
Artist's concept of Mars City
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Artist's concept of Mars City

Today, at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Adelaide, Australia, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk updated his 2016 plan to colonize Mars. The plan not only sees the establishment of a Moon base and a city on Mars within the next decade, but also much cheaper and larger payloads being sent into Earth orbit and maybe even hypersonic passenger travel.

In 2016, Elon Musk made a presentation and later released a white paper in which he outlined his ideas for turning mankind into a "multi-planet species" by building a "Battlestar Galactica" style fleet of spacecraft to carry people and cargo to the Red Planet. Now, at the IAC meeting in Adelaide, he has refined his ideas that revolve around his company's tentatively (and cheekily) named BFR booster and reusable Mars Transport.

In his presentation, Musk reiterated his argument that a completely reusable rocket that only requires refueling to fly again is much cheaper than today's practice of disposing of boosters entirely during each flight, comparing it to destroying a multi-million dollar private plane at the end of a flight rather than just chartering a much cheaper air liner.

BFR compared to previous Falcon configurations
BFR compared to previous Falcon configurations

Musk said that part of his revised plan is based on the rapid progress that SpaceX has made in recent years with its perfection of its Falcon 9 first stage landings to the point where the next mod of the rocket will eliminate the landing legs. Another factor has been the development of autonomous systems that will allow the Crew Dragon to dock directly with the International Space Station (ISS) rather than being guided to its berth by a robotic arm like the cargo version.

The updated Mars plan uses the BFR booster, burning supercooled methane and liquid oxygen to power 31 Raptor engines punching 5,400 tons of thrust, allowing for a total vehicle mass of 4,400 tons.

The Mars Transport itself is a reusable cargo/passenger interplanetary spaceship and lander with a length of 48 m (157 ft) and a diameter of 9 m (30 ft), a ship dry mass of 85 tons, a propellant mass of 1,100 tons, an ascent payload capacity of 150 tons from Earth, and the ability to return with a payload of 50 tons. This craft would be able to refuel in orbit and set out to Mars with full tanks.

Interior of the Mars Transport
Interior of the Mars Transport

Encased in a reusable heat shield, the Transport is powered by six Raptor engines – four engines configured for use in vacuum with two configured for sea level pressure. Musk says that there is enough redundant capacity for the Transport to land on only one engine. Inside, there's a common fuel/oxidizer tank with header tanks for precise control, and at the stern of the ship there are prominent delta wings with control surfaces to allow the ship to operate on more than one planet.

The Transport's payload section has a volume of 825 m³ (29,135 ft³), or greater than that of an A380 aircraft. This will allow the passenger version to carry 40 cabins with two to five passengers each for a total of 80 to 200 passengers, in addition to having common areas, cargo holds, a galley, and a solar storm radiation shelter.

Musk also revealed his concepts of what he calls Moonbase Alpha, a reference to the eponymous setting for the Space:1999 television series, and Mars City. He plans to set up the core of the latter starting in, hopefully, 2022 with a six-ship fleet consisting of four transports and two manned ships, with two unmanned transports landing with supplies and fuel-generating gear to be met by the rest of the fleet when Mars comes back into a favorable orbital position two years later.

Artist's concept of Moon base Alpha
Artist's concept of Moon base Alpha

One of Musk's big updates is that he plans to pay for the Mars missions by making the BFR SpaceX's standard booster and the Transport the standard vehicle – replacing all the other Falcon marks as well as the cargo and crew Dragons. Musk said that ideas like Kickstarter and collecting underpants didn't pan out, but that the company is opting for a Transport vehicle that is multipurpose, so it can be used to carry either a single large payload the size of the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit, or many smaller payloads. This means that all of SpaceX's resources can be focused on Mars when the time comes.

Musk also sees the BFR and the passenger version of the Transport as making passenger hypersonic travel practical with vertically launched rockets leaving from, for example, New York Harbor and landing on a barge in Shanghai 30 minutes later.

Musk says that his vision is more than just a concept on paper, with the components for the first ship already on order and assembly scheduled to begin next year.

Elon Musk's live stream talk can be seen in the video below.

Source: SpaceX

Making Life Multiplanetary

15 comments
MartinVoelker
Musk's key insight is that humanity must aim for a multi-planet presence because a number of mishaps - self inflicted or cosmic mayhem - can wipe us out. And wouldn't that be a pity. Looks like today we're actually approaching the point where that becomes technologically and financially feasible. Hopefully that mission won't detract from the urgency of solving man-made threats to our only home, earth, with vigor.
Neil Larkins
I've become totally disgusted with this continual waste of our tax dollars for a glorified jobs program that only fattens Musk's wallet and the rest of the space program while our country's infrastructure continues to crumble. Fix this world before going off to destroy another.
gbsderm
Maybe we should see if MFR (otherwise known as Falcon Heavy) flies as reliably and as cheaply as advertised.
nehopsa
I really cannot stand low spirits like one of the above. Throw wet blanket on anything somehow outside of your horizons. Eat, drink, be merry be happy and....die out. That mentality already destroyed the world you so worry about. I am disgusted also.
CharlieSeattle
Build the Space Elevator FIRST!
Wolf0579
People need to "smarten up" about this Mars business. If you don't go back to the moon FIRST, and do your DRESS REHEARSAL where you can be rescued if things go pear-shaped, YOU ARE ASKING TO DIE. We have a metric Butt-Load of new things to learn BEFORE heading to mars, and the Luna is just the place to do so.
Derek Howe
Looks awesome, Keep on innovating Elon. Neil Larkins - ...Space X isn't getting any money to build this...your "space" tax dollars are primarily spent on maintaining the floating glued together tin cans (I.S.S). Our country and our world will always have problems, that doesn't mean you stop pushing forward. Landing a man on Mars will inspire people to continue push forward, explore the great beyond. Mush like after the moon landings people used the term "if we can go to the moon, we can do _______ (fill in the blank)."
Scottsdale Bob
You clearly heard him talk like a business owner, how do you pay for the Mars adventure? You do things that can make money, like a charter company with cargo planes and launch satellites, collect space junk and moving things, including people, to anywhere in the world in 30-60 minutes at the same price as a cargo plane in the air. It's because his company's ingenuity perfected how to land an entire reusable rocket instead wastefully shedding parts along the way. This is why private enterprise vs the government trying to do things always works out better and it creates real value for the services being invented.
Redmercury
I believe Musk said 2 ships in 2022, with an additional 4 in 2024, to be clear. We shall see. If SpaceX pulls this off it will change the course of human's presence in space. Wolf, Musk spend a good portion of the presentation on Lunar activity. I was happy to see that much attention paid to the moon. I too think it is the logical first step for deep space missions.
Roger Garrett
So, what do you DO all day long, day after day, year after year, after the thrill of just "being on Mars" wears off? You're always inside your little indoor habitat. You can't go out for a walk and enjoy the warm breezes (it's hellishly cold). You'd get the same environment by simply staying inside an apartment building on Earth for your entire life.
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