This morning at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia Space X founder and chief executive officer Elon Musk took to stage to detail how the firm plans to get humans to Mars.
“The future is far more exciting if we are a spacefaring civilization than if we’re not,” said Musk. “I can’t think of anything more exciting than travelling through space.”
To do this however Musk says that space vessels need to be much lighter than they are and need to carry as much fuel as possible. As it happens Space X is developing such a vessel that it has christened with the code-name BFR. We suspect that stands for Big Freakin’ Rocket or something like that.
The ship features a Deep Cryo Liquid Oxygen Tank that can store 1200tons of liquid oxygen. The tank is made from carbon fibre to keep weight down and can sustain quite a bit of pressure.
The firm has also developed its moist efficient engine yet. The Raptor engine has already undergone 42 main engine tests of 1200 seconds each and can sustain a 40 second firing needed to land on Mars. “We need to perfect propulsive landing,” said Musk. To date Space X has executed 16 successful propulsive landings but Musk says he wants to achieve a landing probability similar to that of commercial airliners.
Refueling in space is key
To successfully travel to Mars one would imagine you need quite a bit of fuel and you would be correct. To get around this Space X is developing an automated rendezvous and docking system that allows a pilot to simply “press go and it [the spaceship] will dock”. Musk proposes that the BFR reach outer Earth orbit where the ship is refueled before heading off to Mars.
As for the amount of fuel that can be stored BFR wouldn’t need to worry about that as it stands 106m tall and 9m wide.
For comparison Falcon Heavy is 70m tall and 12m wide. This extra size allows the BFR to carry a larger payload of up to 150 tons as well as 240 tons of methane (fuel) and 860 tons of liquid oxygen.
The ship will use 31 raptor engines producing upward thrust of 5 400 tons lifting a total vehicle mass of 4 400 tons straight up.
But the key to successful travel to and from Mars is reusability. “It’s crazy that we spend all this money on rockets and then crash them into the ground,” quipped Musk.
How do we pay to get to Mars?
Musk appears to be taking a page out of the Tesla playbook when it comes to funding BFR. He says that Space X will use revenue from launching satellites with Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets to fund the development of BFR. BFR could then be used to launch larger satellites, service the International Space Station and even travel to the Moon.
However, Musk doesn’t simply want to travel to the Moon and return, he wants to build a Lunar base on the heavenly body. “It’s 2017, we should have a lunar base I mean come on, what’s going on,” Musk said.
According to the Space X founder, BFR could potentially travel to the moon and back on one “tank” of fuel providing its refueled in Earth orbit. Mars is a bit trickier. Most people believe that going to Mars is a one-way trip but Musk says that if you could produce Methane and Oxygen on Mars, humans could build a propellant depot that would help get them back to Earth.
As to when Musk plans to send the first spacecraft to Mars – 2022.
“Five years is actually a long time to me,” he said as the audience gasped at his goal. The first mission would simply be a scouting mission. Two cargo ships would land on Mars and confirm water resources and identify hazards. In addition to that this mission would place power and mining infrastructure as well as life support for future missions.
The first two crewed ships would land in 2024 along with additional equipment and supplies to set up a propellant plant and build a base that would eventually be expanded.
It appears then that if Musk has his way, we could soon be vacationing on Mars.