The billionaire entrepreneur unveiled his vision for space travel at the International Astronautical Conference in Mexico introducing both the spacecraft that’ll take us there but also when he plans on doing it.
Speaking to the audience and to those that tuned in to watch the livestream Musk presented us with two options: We either stay on Earth and become extinct, or we colonise other planets and live.
As far as Musk and SpaceX are concerned, that other planet is Mars.
Musks’s grand vision is the result of years of work by SpaceX to not only speed up the development process but vastly decrease the cost of space travel, two factors that will need to be accomplished if we are to have a hope of reaching the red planet within our lifetimes.
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The pinnacle of both those achievements is the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS), a vast reusable spacecraft that will be the largest rocket ever built by man.
Capable of carrying 100 passengers at any one time, the ITS requires a brand-new type of rocket and SpaceX has already built that rocket in the form of the Raptor.
The Raptor is a methane-fuelled rocket that when completed will be more powerful than any other rocket on Earth. Of course that won’t be enough though.
To lift a spacecraft large enough to hold 100 people SpaceX estimates that the ITS will need 40 Raptor engines to lift it into orbit.
Once there the spacecraft enter a holding orbit while the booster lands back down on Earth, refuels and then launches a second spacecraft containing nothing but fuel.
It’ll then refuel the ITS in orbit giving its engines enough juice to get to Mars. To help provide power along the way the ITS will have two vast solar wings which will extend from the rear of the craft.
Musk says that all this should be happening before 2030, with planned regular missions to Mars by the Dragon spacecraft taking place from 2018 onwards.
The plan is to send supplies and equipment using Dragon while the ITS undergoes testing.
So how much would a ticket to Mars cost? Well Musk claimed that using traditional methods, the total cost per person would be around $10 billion. However using SpaceX’s timeline and reusable spacecraft he hopes to eventually bring the cost down to $100,000.
So how is he going to pay for all of this? Well Musk isn’t really sure yet, but what he does believe is that it’s going to take “a huge public-private partnership.”
That means NASA, ESA involvement as well as potentially large private sector firms all footing what will surely be one of the most expensive endeavours mankind has ever embarked upon.