Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Audacious Visions of Elon Musk's Plan for the Red Planet

          By Brian Orlotti

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has revealed some broad details about his plan for the human settlement of Mars. The reveal serves as a "teaser" of sorts for Musk's formal unveiling this fall at the 2016 International Astronautical Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico.

A representation of the proposed 2018 SpaceX Mars sample return mission, a "Red Dragon" on Mars. Graphic c/o SpaceX.

As outlined in the June 10th, 2016 Washington Post article, "Elon Musk provides new details on his ‘mind blowing’ mission to Mars," SpaceX will begin by launching an uncrewed Dragon spacecraft to Mars in 2018. The Red Dragon flights will continue every two years, with launch windows set for when Earth and Mars are at their closest. These spacecraft will carry scientific experiments and robotic rovers to the red planet. If all goes well, these flights will build toward the first human landing on Mars in 2025.

Graphic c/o Space.com.
SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft will travel to Mars on the company's upcoming rocket, the Falcon Heavy. With its first flight scheduled for later this year, the Falcon Heavy is set to become the “most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two,” according to the SpaceX website.

The Falcon Heavy's 27 first-stage engines will have more than 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, about the equivalent of 18 Boeing 747 airliners. During the 2020 launch window, Musk said that SpaceX will aim to fly at least two Falcon Heavy rockets and Dragon spacecraft laden with experiments.

By that time there will be quite a few organizations … that are interested in running experiments on Mars,” he said.

In addition to scientific knowledge and income for SpaceX, these first flights will let the company hone its skills in interplanetary navigation, test mission hardware and practice landing safely on the surface of Mars. Such practice will be crucial to building public and investor confidence in Musk's enterprise.

In 2024, with the first phase complete, Musk hopes to launch the long-speculated Mars Colonial Transporter, the ship that will carry the first humans to Mars.

NASA, for its part, has pledged “technical support” for SpaceX's endeavour, but no more. The space agency, soon to be subjected to another US election cycle and enslaved to the ever-shifting whims of its political masters, seems unable to do much else.

The task ahead is huge, and Musk has no illusions about the risks and complexities involved. Musk stated, “the first mission wouldn’t have a huge number of people on it, because if something goes wrong, we want to risk the fewest number of lives as possible.”

Musk also admitted that hitting a crewed flight launch window in late 2024 with a landing in 2025 will require luck as well as no major issues.

Musk went on to say:
But I do want to emphasize this is not about sending a few people to Mars. It’s about having an architecture that would enable the creation of a self-sustaining city on Mars with the objective of being a multi-planet species and a true space-faring civilization and one day being out there among the stars. 
It’s dangerous and probably people will die—and they’ll know that. And then they’ll pave the way, and ultimately it will be very safe to go to Mars, and it will very comfortable. 
But that will be many years in the future.
Brian Orlotti.
Vision and audacity; the twin pillars of Elon Musk's plans for the Red planet.

Fortune favours the bold.

Brian Orlotti is a network operations centre analyst at Shomi, a Canadian provider of on-demand internet streaming media and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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