Monday, October 03, 2016

Mr. Musk Goes to Mars

          By Brian Orlotti

On September 27th, fourteen years after the founding of SpaceX, CEO Elon Musk revealed his plans for colonizing Mars at the 67th International Astronautical Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Elon Musk outlining his plan to go to Mars at the 67th International Astronautical Conference. To see the complete video, simply click on the screen. To download the powerpoint presentation, check out Screenshot c/o World-Reality News

Unveiling a vision both daring and vast, Musk made his case for making humanity a multi-planetary species. While the plan has been met with both admiration and skepticism, its true test will be in the backing it rallies in the years ahead.

In his 90-minute presentation, Musk revealed the SpaceX Interplanetary Transport System (ITS), a vertical takeoff/landing (VTOL) spacecraft launched atop a super-heavy lift launch vehicle. The 50m tall VTOL spacecraft will be reusable and capable of carrying 100 passengers to the Red Planet.

The new launcher will be made from carbon fiber composites and equipped with 42 SpaceX Raptor engines burning liquid oxygen and densified liquid methane. Nearly four times more powerful than the Apollo-era Saturn V booster, it will enable 449,000 kilos of payload to be delivered into Mars orbit (with on-orbit refuelling) or carry 381,000 kilos of propellant to low Earth orbit as a tanker.

Various schematics for the ITS, as per the September 27th, 2016 Human Mars post, "Official schematics for Interplanetary Transport System by SpaceX." Graphics c/o Human Mars.

After being fuelled in Earth orbit and launched to Mars, the ITS’ six Raptor engines (capable of triple the thrust of SpaceX’s current Merlin engines) will accelerate the craft to 6 km/s, cutting trip time from six months to three.

Musk’s vision is for a self-sustaining city on Mars with at least 1 million residents by the end of the century. To achieve this, SpaceX is working to bring down the per person cost to $200,000 USD, the average price of a middle-class home in the US.

This, Musk believes, is a price that most would-be Mars colonists could afford. He estimates that $10 billion USD in development costs are needed to produce the first ITS and safely land the first astronauts on Mars. Although Musk stated that it is technially possible to launch the first ITS in 2024 and land on Mars in 2025, he quickly added that such a timeline was optimistic.

While Musk said that SpaceX would fund the ITS from its own revenues (including projected sales of satellites as well as NASA contract work), he also made clear that an undertaking as grand as Mars will require much outside capital to succeed.

Mr. Smith, here played by a young Jimmy Stewart, prepares to take on the government in the 1939 American political comedy-drama "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."  In the movie, Smith's naïve and honest nature allows the unforgiving Washington press to take advantage of him, quickly tarnishing Smith's reputation with ridiculous front page pictures and headlines branding him a bumpkin, much like others initially tried to tarnish Musk for some of his early visions. Here's hoping that Mr. Musk's luck holds. Screen shot c/o Columbia Pictures.

Framing the venture as a public/private partnership, Musk welcomed governments (both the US and around the world) as well as the private sector to join him in his grand venture. Given Musk’s solid track record with rallying investors for his other companies (i.e. Mercedes-Benz, Panasonic, Google and Goldman-Sachs) and increasing investment in NewSpace ventures (such as space mining), he stands a fighting chance of raising the needed funds.

As with so many other space projects proposed over the decades, Elon Musk’s vision for Mars is being run up the flagpole to see if anyone salutes. Unlike most of those past pitches, this one comes from the mouth of an inspiring tech titan with a track record of success.

The many who have joined Musk in his reshaping of transportation, energy and aerospace may well join him on his quest to reshape the red planet.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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