Elon Musk has long talked about his plans for Mars, and this week he has put his vision down on paper. The founder and CEO of space exploration company SpaceX published his full plan in a journal called New Space. The paper by Musk is entitled “Making Humanity a Multi-Planetary Species,” and he has made the paper free through the New Space website until July 5.
Scott Hubbard, the editor-in-chief of New Space and a former Mars program director for NASA, published a statement where he discusses Musk’s plans. Hubbard said that the publishing of the paper is an opportunity for the space community to read the vision set out by SpaceX. He also said that the paper can now serve as a valuable and important archival reference for planning and studies in the future.
Musk outlines a vision of Mars that centers around a combination of a reusable rocket and spaceship. Musk calls this combination the Interplanetary Transport System, or ITS, and the booster and spaceship will both be powered by SpaceX’s own Raptor engine. The engine is currently still being developed, but Musk claims it will be three times as strong as the Merlin engine which is currently used to power their Falcon 9 rockets.
The booster will contain 42 Raptor engines, making it the most powerful rocket humans have ever created. When completed, he says it will be able to launch as much as 300 metric tons into a low Earth orbit. He also claims that it could fire as much as 550 metric tons in an expandable variant. The NASA Saturn V moon rocket, which currently holds the world records, could lift around 135 metric tons into space. This makes Musk’s rockets significantly more powerful than those available today.
With Musk’s ITS rockets, it will be possible to launch complete spaceships into orbit, before making a pinpoint landing back on earth just 20 minutes later. SpaceX makes their pinpoint claim perfectly clear – they will use maneuvering thrusters that will allow the rocket to land back on the stand that it launched from. The Falcon 9 has been developed specifically to land in a way that allows it to be reused.
The ITS boosters made by SpaceX will be able to launch multiple spaceships and tankers into orbit, and Musk claims they could be used up to 1,000 times each. The spaceships would then stay in orbit, and when Earth and Mars are aligned as closely as possible, the spaceships will set off. Musk claims that these kinds of launches could take places as often as every 26 months.
In his paper, Musk says that he believes there could be over 1,000 ITS spaceships ready to go at any time, carrying over 100 people. These ships would leave Earth orbit during the right windows, and over a period of 50 and 100 years, could deliver as many as 1 million people to the red planet. The ships would then fly from Mars back to Earth, using nine Raptor engines powered by a methane-based fuel that can be manufactured on Mars.
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