Musk founded SpaceX, an aerospace manufacturing and space transportation services company, in 2002 in order to develop technology that would aid the advancement of human space exploration. SpaceX is the first company in the world to develop a reusable launch system to deliver cargo to the ISS and also place satellites in orbit around Earth.
In 2016 he announced the ambitious ITS programme (Interplanetary Transport System) with the ultimate goal of developing technology that will enable humans to colonize other planets in our solar system, specifically, Mars.
This week, Elon Musk attended the IAC (International Astronautical Congress) in Adelaide, Australia to give a talk and present an update for the ITS programme. The talk focused on the long-term technical challenges that need to be solved to support the creation of a permanent, self-sustaining human presence on Mars.
Elon Musk - “The future is vastly more exciting if we’re a space faring civilisation and a multi planet species”
Key ITS Developments
The project will no doubt need an enormous amount of private investor funding, to tackle this issue, Musk states they will need to produce a “relatively small vehicle capable of carrying out all tasks involved in Earth orbiting activities“.
Musk says the first step in this process will be to make all current vehicles redundant and have one booster and ship that replaces Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy & Dragon whilst still utilizing all of the current resources for these projects on the new system.
The team have developed a new form of Carbon Fiber Matrix capable of holding up to 1200 tons of liquid oxygen under 2.3 atmospheres which Musk states is fundamentally important in building a light spacecraft.
An extremely efficient engine is being developed, according to Musk who states, “The Raptor engine will be the highest thrust to weight engine of any engine of any kind ever made”. Their current test engine can operate at up to 200 atmospheres however, the flight engine will operate at up to 250.
The SpaceX CEO also says they will have to master, ‘Propulsive Landing’ due to the lack of atmosphere on Mars. This is what SpaceX have been testing with the Falcon 9 Rocket to and to date have achieved 16 successful landings in a row. The new vehicle however is even more ambitious by taking away the “legs” from Falcon 9, claiming the new system will land with such procession, it will land back onto it’s launch mounts. For an unmanned, automated system this is quite an amazing technical feat if they can pull it off.
The new vehicle called, ‘BFR’ will stand at 106M tall compared to Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy which stand at 70M (Falcon Heavy Launching later this year). The payload will also see a huge increase with BFR which should be able to carry an enormous 150 tonnes, without refueling. Falcon Heavy can only carry up to 30. The BFR engine will also consist of 31 raptor engines producing 5400 tons of lift.
The cost of the new BFR will actually be the cheapest to launch due to it’s efficiency and reusability.
All of these developments mean it’s possible to create a lunar base on the moon, according to Musk, “This will enable the creation of a lunar base, it’s 2017 we should have a lunar base by now, what the hell’s going on...”.
Funding for this immense project essentially will come from the fact that BFR will be reusable, cheap to operate (relative) & accessible to all companies. There will no doubt be funding from private investors and shareholders.
What about Mars?
The plan for Mars is quite a simple concept using the new BFR vehicle by taking advantage of the Carbon rich atmosphere mixed with H2O found on the planet in order to make CH4 & O2. This will be used to refuel the rocket on Mars ready for a return mission back to Earth where the process can be repeated.
The long term plan is to use solar power to extract CO2 from Earth's atmosphere, combine it with water and produce fuel and oxygen for the rocket essentially creating an extremely cheap and efficient way to resupply the BFR.
Although the launch from Mars will not require boosters due to it’s low atmosphere, this will limit the payload return to earth to about 20-30 tons.
Musk has set his sights on 2 cargo missions to Mars by 2022 which will also include identifying hazards, confirming water resources and placing life support systems on the red planet. The following mission will launch 4 ships in 2024, two that will be crewed and two cargo.
The goal of these missions is to find the best resource for water and to develop the fuel propellant depot. Then, build a city and terraform Mars.
That’s not all though! Elon Musk has also announced they will be looking at setting up domestic flights between destinations on Earth that could potentially replace standard air travel and revolutionise how we connect on our own planet.
The ship would travel at 18000 MPH and take passengers from New York to Shanghai in 39 Minutes! His goal is to make any trip on Earth less than ONE HOUR! NO MORE LONG DISTANCE TRIPS! THIS IS INCREDIBLE!
SpaceX plan to begin construction for the first ship in the second quarter of 2018 and be ready for the first mission to Mars in 5 years.
Watch SpaceX 'Earth to Earth'
Watch the full presentation by Elon Musk
Watch a Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket hit 6000KPH through Earth’s atmosphere and then land vertically back at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center
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