Pack your bags for a move to Mars
Elon Musk, the billionaire founder and CEO of the private spaceflight company SpaceX, wants to help establish a Mars colony of up to 80,000 people by ferrying explorers to the Red Planet for perhaps $500,000 a trip.
“At Mars, you can start a self sustaining civilization and grow it into something really big,” Musk told an audience at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London on Nov. 16.
The Red Planet pioneers would also take construction materials to build transparent domes, which when pressurized with Mars’ atmospheric CO2 could grow Earth crops in Martian soil. As the Mars colony became more self sufficient, the big rocket would start to transport more people and fewer supplies and equipment. “You have to have propellant to keep things aligned as (Mars and Earth’s) orbits aren’t (always) in the same plane. In the beginning you won’t have cyclers.”
Musk also ruled out SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, which the company is developing to ferry astronauts to and from low Earth orbit, as the spacecraft that would land colonists on the Red Planet. He reckons the oxygen concentration inside should be 30 to 40 percent, and he envisions using the spacecraft’s liquid water store as a barrier between the and the sun.
A $500,000 ticket
Musk’s $500,000 ticket price for a Mars trip was derived from what he thinks is affordable.
“The ticket price needs to be low enough that most people in advanced countries, in their mid forties or something like that, could put together enough money to make the trip,” he said, comparing the purchase to buying a house in California. [Photos: The First Space Tourists]
He also estimated that of the 8 billion humans that will be living on Earth by the time the colony is possible, perhaps one in 100,000 would be prepared to go. That equates to potentially 80,000 migrants.
Musk figures the colony program which he wants to be a collaboration between government and private enterprise would end up costing about $36 billion. He arrived at that number by estimating that a colony that costs 0.25 percent or 0.5 percent of a nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) would be considered acceptable.
The United States’ GDP in 2010 was $14.5 trillion; 0.25 percent of $14.5 trillion is $36 billion. If all 80,000 colonists paid $500,000 per seat for their Mars trip, $40 billion would be raised.
“Some money has to be spent on establishing a base on Mars. It’s about getting the basic fundamentals in place,” Musk said. “That was true of the English colonies (in the Americas); it took a significant expense to get things started. But once there are regular Mars flights, you can get the cost down to half a million dollars for someone to move to Mars. Then I think there are enough people who would buy that to have it be a reasonable bu Ugg Boots Sale siness case.”
The big reusable rocket
The fully re Ugg Boots Sale usable rocket that Musk wants to take colonists to Mars is an evolution Ugg Boots Sale of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster, which launches Dragon.
“It’s going to be much bigger (than Falcon 9), but I don’t think we’re quite ready to state the payload. We’ll speak about that next year,” Musk said, emphasizing that only fully reusable rockets and spacecraft would keep the ticket price for Mars migration as low as $500,000.
SpaceX is already testing what Musk calls a next generation, reusable Falcon 9 rocket that can take off vertically and land vertically. The prototype, called Grasshopper, is a Falcon 9 first stage with landing legs.
Grasshopper has made two short flights. The first was on Sept. 21 and reached a height of 6 feet (2 meters); the second test, on Nov. 1, was to a height of 17.7 feet (5.4 m). A planned milestone for the Grasshopper project is to reach an altitude of 100 feet (30 m). [Grasshopper Rocket’s 2 Story Test Flight (Video)]
“Over the next few months, we’ll gradually increase the altitude and speed,” Musk said. “I do think there probably will be some craters along the way; we’ll be very lucky if there are no craters. Vertical landing is an extremely important breakthrough extreme, rapid reusability. It’s as close to aircraft like dispatch capability as one can achieve.”
Musk wants to have a reusable Falcon 9 first stage, which uses Grasshopper technology, come back from orbit in “the next year or two.” He then wants to use this vertical landing technology for Falcon 9’s upper stage.
Musk hopes to have a fully reusable version of Falcon 9 in five or six years, but he acknowledged that those could be “famous last words.”
A rocket stepping stone
Another stepping st Ugg Boots Sale one toward the planned reusable Mars rocket is SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launcher. With a first flight planned for next year from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, the Heavy is a Falcon 9 that has two Falcon 9 first stages bolted on either side.
Musk expects the Falcon Heavy to launch from Florida’s Cape Canaveral eventually. This triple first stage rocket will be able to put 116,600 pounds (53,000 kilograms) into a 124 mile (200 kilometers) low Earth orbit. But the Falcon Heavy is still much smaller than Musk’s fully reusable Mars rocket, which will also employ a new engine.