On 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara we have seen vision of Mars colonization presented by SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk. On impressive animation was shown giant rocket with largest spacecraft ever created, flying to Mars with colonists.
Plans of SpaceX are based on solid basement. Company is doing well with their Falcon-9, which showed us that reusability of launch vehicles is accessible for medium rockets and can be part of commercial missions. Recently Raptor engine fueled with methane passed its fire test successfully and probably it will be adopted for Falcon Heavy or even for upper stage of Falcon-9. Company has potential for developing present technology and is showing great faith in rocket propulsion and its possibilities. This factors clearly determined vision presented yesterday.
Rocket which was showed was design as single stage reusable booster. It will be powered by 42 raptor engines (each with planned thrust of 2.7 mN) with ability for performing reentry after separation with spacecraft and precise landing on launch pad. Rocket will be able to deliver up to 500 tons to Low Earth Orbit with ability to perform reentry with 300 t payload. SpaceX is planning to launch on atop of same booster next refueling tank to refuel orbiting Martian spacecraft. Spacecraft with at least 100 passengers (Musk mentions about even larger spacecraft for at least few hundreds passengers or 450 t of payload) will be launched on atop of the rocket and wait for refueling spacecraft. Next it will deploy its solar arrays and start lasting 26 months journey to Mars. Inside vehicle crew members will travel in comfortable conditions with number of individual cabins, recreation rooms and even cinema. Elon Musk mentioned also about possibility of utilizing such spacecraft for travelling to moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Of course during his speech Elon Musk mentioned also Red Dragon, present spacecraft developed by SpaceX. He confirmed, that first manned mission to Mars with Red Dragon is still scheduled for 2024 with landing on Red Planet planned for 2025. SpaceX CEO also explained that future plan of colonization of Mars should be fundamental in space program and is chance for humanity to be first “multiplanetary species”. It is probably most important declaration – if we carefully watch video presentation of future rocket and spacecraft, we surely notice, that in the end of the movie there was nothing about return to Earth. Elon Musk naturally mentioned about plans for refining methane from CO2 on Mars, but his vision should be considered as plan for self-sufficient colony on Mars, not establishing base only for scientific purposes. Elon Musk also mentioned about budget of Mars colony. According to him, total cost of creating rockets, spacecrafts and ground segment will cost around $10 billion, while at the moment SpaceX is still putting in development of Mars program small percent of their income. With planned annual sum of $300 million, it will take long time to reach any milestone, still assuming that nothing will change in SpaceX financial condition. Of course public-private partnership is something obviously in this case, but it should be put under the question if NASA plans are similar to plans of SpaceX. NASA Mars program is rather more realistic with first manned mission to Mars planned for the end of 2030s.
Definitely yesterday we have seen impressive presentation lead with enthusiasm personally by Elon Musk, who confirmed again that is person full of energy and passion. He showed us conception of Mars spacecraft, new rocket and part of his plans for colonization of Red Planet, plans strongly based on the present state of knowledge about the space and the current technical capabilities. Plans which are in fact impressive, unfortunately are looking like they could be easily created partially in the sixties or seventies: huge launch vehicles with rocket propulsion launched vertically, large spacecrafts for hundreds of passengers powered with rocket engines, refueling on orbit before flight to Mars, huge price per kilogram of payload (of course with declared possibility of reducing cost per person even to $200000). Approach to the subject of delivering people and cargo to Mars seemed similar to philosophy from the Century of the railroad: if you need fast car, put in it large engine; if you want to travel you need huge train. Simply this presentation was not showing future; we have not heard anything about electric propulsion for spacecraft, nothing about creating buildings on Mars with conditions for hundreds of people and nothing about plan for providing food independently from resupply missions. SpaceX vision is only concept of delivering men to Mars, which at the moment is in fact matter of time – question is more about form of this transportation more than if it is generally possible. Impressive is its scale, but still presentation showed us easiest fragment of the colonization plan with advanced technology, but still without any revolution.