Elon Musk may be able to unveil SpaceX’s highly anticipated Mars Colonial Transporter — which will ferry large numbers of people to the Red Planet — as early as this year, he said in a Reddit AMA on January 5.
“The Mars transport system will be a completely new architecture. Am hoping to present that towards the end of this year. Good thing we didn’t do it sooner, as we have learned a huge amount from Falcon and Dragon,” Musk wrote.
The reddit comment was in response to a question from Reddit user EchoLogic asking for specifics about the craft.
While SpaceX is currently known for ferrying cargo to and from the International Space Station for the astronauts aboard, that’s not their ultimate goal. The design and redesign of the Falcon rocket system, and the Dragon cargo and crew capsules, are all in an effort to reach Musks ultimate goal of starting a Martian colony, of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people.
As he told Wired Magazine in 2007:
The ultimate objective is to make humanity a multiplanet species. Thirty years from now, there’ll be a base on the moon and on Mars, and people will be going back and forth on SpaceX rockets.
This ambitious plan has grown into the Mars Colonial Transporter (MCT) project that involves a series of yet-to-be developed reusable rocket engines, launch vehicles, and space capsules capable of ferrying 100 soon-to-be Martian colonists at a time and then return to Earth for more passengers.
Details about these systems are sparse, though.
Goal is 100 metric tons of useful payload to the surface of Mars. This obviously requires a very big spaceship and booster system.
One metric ton is equal to 2205 pounds. A payload of 220,500 pounds is significantly more than the 5,200-pound payload that SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft is scheduled to transport to the International Space Station this Friday. An average Space Shuttle payload weighed 53,000 pounds.
The heaviest payload ever launched weighed 260,000 pounds and was aboard the world’s tallest, heaviest, and most powerful rocket called the Saturn V, which carried the Apollo missions. However, this rocket only had to travel as far as low-Earth orbit, which is between 100 to 1000 miles above Earth’s surface, before detaching from the capsule containing Apollo astronauts. A SpaceX reusable rocket will have to make it all the way to Mars.
Last year, SpaceX began development on the first of what will eventually be nine newly-designed rocket engines that could eventually power SpaceX’s MCT, SpaceX co-founder Tom Mueller said at an “Exploring the Next Frontier: The Commercialization of Space is Lifting Off” event in February of 2014.
One of the new features of MCT’s engines, Musk explains, are that they have a higher specific impulse, which basically means the rocket can power itself with fewer pounds of propellant. He wrote:
MCT will have meaningfully higher specific impulse engines: 380 vs 345 vac Isp. For those unfamiliar, in the rocket world, that is a super gigantic difference for stages of roughly equivalent mass ratio (mass full to mass empty).
So, with design and development of their Mars space ship underway, when can we expect to land on Mars?
Musk told The Register in June of 2014 that he envisions the astronauts walking on Mars before 2030. He said: “I’m hopeful that the first people could be taken to Mars in 10 to 12 years, I think it’s certainly possible for that to occur.”
Musk isn’t the only one eyeing Mars. NASA has begun testing the Orion crewed craft, which will be able to ferry astronauts to Mars and back, potentially in 2030, they said.
Mars One is also (supposedly) planning a colony on Mars by 2025. Their technology is not as advanced as SpaceX or NASA, and some are speculative if the not-for-profit company will ever leave Earth, let alone, walk on Mars.
Whoever gets there first, there’s a big push for Mars in our future, though many think the moon is a better option to test out these new inter-planetary technologies.
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