Today Elon Musk took the stage of the International Astronautical Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico to discuss the long-term technical challenges that need to be solved to support the creation of a permanent, self-sustaining human presence on Mars.
SpaceX’s plan is to build a city on Mars in which the company plans to build a self-sustaining civilisation, currently the cost of doing this is estimated to be around $10 billion per person, however, as usual, SpaceX wants to cut this cost down to as low as the price of buying a house in the US.
This would be a cost reduction of around 5 million percent according to Musk, which would be a pretty decent goal to hit, if they do.
To do this, SpaceX will take advantage of their recently announced Interplanetary Transport System, which is capable of separating the parts into manageable sections, allowing SpaceX to reuse both the booster rocket and the tanker by using a system that would refuel the spaceship in orbit, rather than filling the spaceship with enough fuel before launch, resulting in a 500 percent decrease in the cost of a ticket.
They then plan to build a repellent farm on Mars and then refill the rocket for its return journey. For that propellant, SpaceX would be using methane, as they use in the Falcon 9 due to its fuel efficiency.
They shown off this plan further in a video that they released earlier today. You can watch that below.
They made this simulation from the SpaceX engineering CAD models, so that video is an actual representation of what SpaceX plans for this launch to look like.
They target to get 1,000 uses out of each booster that they use, 100 uses per tanker used, and 12 uses of the spaceship before they have to decommission them.
They want to build a fleet of these ITS systems to bring thousands of people to Mars, instead of waiting for the 26 month return journey from Mars to Earth.
Each of these systems would fit 100 people in total, with enough room for cargo, stores and other rooms. But Musk said he could reduce the cost further by taking 200 people with each system.
Musk plans to make 1000 of these trips to build a fully sustaining Mars, which he says will take between 30-40 years to complete.
To power all of this, SpaceX designed the raptor engine. Each on of these uses a sub cooled liquid methane as a propellent and can deliver the highest chamber pressure that has ever been achieved in any engine.
SpaceX will cluster 42 of these raptor engines to the bottom of a booster rocket, which has similar dimensions to the Falcon 9 booster at 77.5m in length and 12m in diameter, providing a sea level thrust of 128 MN and a vacuum thrust of 138 MN from a propellant mass of 6,700 t.
It would be capable of reaching up to 8,650 km/h in speeds to get the spaceship into orbit.
The outer raptor engines would be fixed in place to provide this thrust, and the ones around the centre would be moveable to work as a gimbal and point the booster at the right direction.
The spaceship itself would be 49.5m in length, 17m in max diameter and will feature another 3 sea-level and 6 vacuum raptor engines for a vacuum thrust of 31 MN. The sea-level ones will also gimbal for steering.
It will be capable of carrying 1,950 t of propellant, 150 t of dry mass, 300 t of cargo/ propellent to orbit, 450 t of cargo to mars, and around 100 passengers.
The tanker will back this up, with a capability of carrying 2,500 t of propellent mass, 90 t of dry mass, and 380 t of cargo/propellent to orbit.
On inside of the spaceship part of the ITS, Musk has said that their will be Zero-G games, lecture halls, restaurants and more to make sure that all of the crew would have fun on their 13 month journey.
With all of this, Elon Musk aims to cut the price per ticket to around $140,000 per ton for a trip to Mars, so anyone who is okay with throwing away stuff would get a pretty cheap ticket.
To fund all of this, Musk expects to generate a lot of the money from servicing the space station and launching satellites, as well as from both governments and private company investment.
He said that as they make this something that looks more possible, people would be more interested in contributing to that funding.
In terms of a timeline, SpaceX hopes to kick off booster testing in 2019 and then actually begin flights to mars from 2023, despite SpaceX having yet to actually launch a person into space.
However, this is not exact.
They do plan to launch Red Dragon missions to Mars on every Mars rendezvous from 2018 and continuing in 2020, 2022, and so on. These will not be manned missions, but they will be capable of taking cargo to Mars.
After Mars, Musk said that we could go anywhere in the solar system thanks to their plan to take advantage of on-planet propellent plants, which will allow you to create propellent stations across the solar system, planet hoping as you go, and reaching further distances across the solar system.
If you missed it you can re-watch the live stream via the embed below.