SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk revealed his plans for getting to Mars in the near future on Tuesday.
“What I really want to achieve here is to make Mars possible,” Musk told the audience gathered at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, after a half-hour delay.
Musk, whose main goal is to make space travel accessible by cutting down costs utilizing reusable components, revealed a bold plan that would take thousands of people to the red planet.
Using current technology, Musk said it costs about USD$10 billion per person to send to space. But he aims to lower the cost to about USD$200,000, or the average cost of a home in the United States.
“So, this is not easy,” he said. “It sounds virtually impossible, but I think there are ways to do it.”
SpaceX plans to achieve the goal by utilizing four major factors: full reusability, refilling in orbit, propellant production on Mars and choosing the right propellant. In the case of the right propellant, Musk said that they chose methane, or deep-cryo methalox. This type of fuel would be able to be produced on Mars.
WATCH BELOW: SpaceX reveals plans to colonize Mars
This is how he sees SpaceX heading to Mars: The rocket lifts off with a crew in a shuttle-like vehicle. The first stage then returns to the launch pad, just as the Falcon 9s do today (Musk has had varied success). Once at the launch pad, a propellant tanker is loaded atop and the rocket lifts off once again. The tanker meets with the shuttle in orbit around Earth, refuelling it and then heads back to Earth.
The crewed vehicle then leaves Earth-orbit and deploys solar arrays that generate 200 kW of power. It heads towards Mars in an “interplanetary coast,” travelling 100,800 km/h. Once the spacecraft reaches Mars, it enters the thin atmosphere, landing upright.
The SpaceX vision is like no other: each booster can be used about 1,000 times, with the tanker being used 100 times and ship used up to 12 times. Each crewed vehicle would hold about 100 people, and there would be upwards of 1,000 ships in orbit heading to Mars, what he called, “the colonial fleet.”
“Kind of like Battlestar Galactica,” he said.
The size of the rocket is enormous: larger and more powerful than the Apollo era Saturn V that sent men to the moon. The propulsion system used to land the ship makes it also possible to use on other worlds such as the moon or even Jupiter’s moon — one with a potential for life — Europa.
He also said that inside the crewed vehicle will be a place to watch movies, along with restaurants and other amenities.
“It’ll be really fun to go. You’ll have a great time.”
As for the timeline, Musk — who is known to miss targets — joked, “I’m not the best at this sort of thing.”
However, he envisions the development of the spacecraft within four years, with the idea of sending an uncrewed vehicle within “a couple of years.” And, after that, he plans to continue to send spacecraft to the red planet to “establish a steady cadence.”
In order to optimize travel times, it’s necessary to leave Earth in a window where the two planets are at the closest, something that occurs on average every 26 months. Depending on the position of Earth and Mars, he estimates that the average time for a trip to Mars would be about 115 days.
In the SpaceX video, Mars is briefly seen with an ocean of water at the end of the video. It is unknown how or if Musk plans to terraform the planet to make it more habitable for humans (he once suggested nuking the planet).
Musk tweeted an image of one of the engines he proposes to use for interplanetary travel.
Musk has said that he aims to put humans on Mars by 2025, which would beat NASA’s goal of reaching Mars sometime in the 2030s.
As for funding such a grand project, Musk said that it would likely involve money from SpaceX, the private sector and, he hopes, government. He also said that the only reason he is accumulating his own assets is to fund the colonization of Mars, “to making life interplanetary.”
Musk acknowledged that the risk is high.
“The risk of fatality will be high,” he said. “Are you willing to die? Then you’re a candidate for going.”