Elon Musk has delivered his masterplan for life on Mars and plans to put his entire fortune into an armada of ships that will head to the Red Planet in scenes reminiscent of Battlestar Galactica. He also predicts you’ll be able to move there for $100,000 before too long.
Musk is never short of a memorable quote and for a speech of this magnitude he was always going to make an impact. He delivered his address at the 67th Annual International Astronautical Conference and revealed a number of details about his vision for turning man into a multiplanetary species and occupying the Red Planet.
The first ship that goes to Mars, which will be powered by the Raptor rocket that just went through its first test fire recently, will sit in a stable orbit around the Earth.
“This is going to be the highest chamber-pressure engine of any kind and probably the highest thrust-to-weight,” he said. “It’s a full-flow stage-combustion engine which maximizes the theoretical momentum you can get out of a given source of fuel.
“We sub-cool the oxygen or methane to densify it. Propellants are used close to their boiling points in most rockets, in our case we actually load the propellants close to their freezing points and that can result in a density improvement of up to 10-12 percent, which makes an enormous difference in the actual results of the rocket.”
One ship, 42 Raptor rockets
A booster rocket containing 42 separate Raptor units will take the ship into orbit, return to Earth, pick up a fuel tank and then return to the ship and take it to 5,282mph. It’s a complex process, but then there are technical challenges and SpaceX’s engineers believe this is the best solution.
It should also be safer, as the large number of engines mean that a number can fail and the mission can still continue safely.
It is also the best way to control costs, which is essential if Musk is to realize his vision of bringing the price down so that people could one day move to Mars for less than $100,000. He estimates the price right now would be $10 billion, if it was possible at all.
Reusability and recycling are key to this plan and the booster rocket will make 1000 launches and the fuel tanker will survive 100 missions.
Musk revealed a video that showed the plan in action, with one ship, but he has grander plans. The Tesla CEO said: “Over time there will many spaceships. You’d ultimately have upwards of, I think, a thousand or more spaceships waiting in orbit. So the Mars Colonial Fleet would depart en masse, kind of like Battlestar Galactica.”
He also revealed that methane was the to save money, as SpaceX is confident it can use the planet’s CO2 and water ice stores to manufacturer it on Mars using a Sabatier reaction. All these steps will bring the average transport costs for a person down to $100,000.
The first people will be pretty lonely for a while, though. Musk imagines a future with 1 million people in the new community on Mars, but that’s a long way off. With the technology we have at hand, he can launch ships with 100 people on board.
The timetable is tough, too, as the ships can only launch every two years when Earth and Mars are closest together. If the SpaceX boss can have 1000 ships ready, then that’s no issue. But he will have to start smaller than that. So it will be a small community in the beginning.
To another world in 88 days
It will also be a long journey that harks back to the olde world of travelling between continents on a boat. The journey time will be approximately 88 days to start with, although Musk reckons he can reduce that over time.
“Ultimately I’d suspect you’d see Mars transit times in as little as 30 days in the more distant future,” he said. “So it’s fairly manageable considering the trips that people used to do in the old days, such as sailing voyages that would take six months or more.”
Like a modern-day cruise ship, Musk reckons the ships will offer games, movies and a restaurant. So it might still be an ordeal, but he will make the move to Mars as fun and painless as possible.
He clearly believes in this and has revealed that Paypal, Tesla and now SolarCity are all leading to this one massive moment, where he can lead the human race to another planet. Even that won’t satisfy him, though, as he also said that once we’re properly set up on Mars we can plan missions even further into the solar system.
“The main reason I’m personally accumulating assets is in order to fund this,” he said. “So I really don’t have any other motivation for personally accumulating assets except to be able to make the biggest contribution I can to making life multi-planetary.”
Musk’s kids might not like the news
That is bad news for his five children, but good news for the rest of us. He’s the 87th richest person in the world with a $13.2 billion fortune, but that should spike dramatically in the next year as Tesla puts the Model 3 on sale, introduces the Model Y and SolarCity and PowerWall become a part of our lives.
It’s a brave statement of intent, but we’ve come to expect nothing less from the Tesla boss. So while we’re sure some critics will openly laugh at this plan to inhabit Mars, we’ve seen enough of these crazy ideas come off in the past and we’ll just sit back and see what he can do.