Mars plan a boon for earthbound travellers
ADELAIDE SpaceX chief Elon Musk’s elaborate plan for a megarocket to carry astronauts to Mars may have some down-to-Earth applications.
At a conference in Australia on Friday, Musk said that if you build a ship capable of going to the moon and Mars, why not use it for high-speed transport here at home?
He proposes using his still-inthe-design phase rocket for launching passengers from New York to Shanghai in 39 minutes flat. Los Angeles to New York, or Los Angeles to Honolulu in 25 minutes. London to Dubai in 29 minutes.
‘‘Most of what people consider to be long-distance trips would be completed in less than half an hour,’’ Musk said to applause and cheers at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide.
The address was a followup to one he gave to the group last September in Mexico, where he unveiled his grand scheme for colonising Mars. He described a slightly scaled-down 106-metretall rocket, and announced that the private space company aimed to launch two cargo missions to Mars in 2022.
Two more cargo missions would follow in 2024 to provide more construction materials, along with two crewed flights. The window for launching to Mars occurs every two years.
For the approximately sixmonth, one-way trips to Mars, the SpaceX ships would have 40 cabins, ideally with two to three people per cabin for a grand total of about 100 passengers. Musk foresees this Mars city growing, and over time ‘‘making it really a nice place to be’’.
Scott Hubbard, an adjunct professor at Stanford University and a former director of Nasa’s Ames Research Centre, called it ‘‘a bold transportation architecture with aspirational dates’’.
Former Nasa chief technologist Bobby Braun, now dean of the college of engineering and applied science at the University of Colorado at Boulder, also sees Musk’s plan as a step in the right direction, building on technologies SpaceX already has demonstrated, like reusable rockets.
‘‘While the timeline and capabilities are certainly ambitious, I’m bullish on US industry’s ability to carry out challenging and far-reaching goals,’’ Braun said. ‘‘It’s great to see the private sector lead in this way, and I hope we see more of it.’’
Nasa is charting its own path to what it calls the ‘‘Deep Space Gateway’’, beginning with expeditions in the vicinity of the Moon in the 2020s and eventually culminating at Mars. The US space agency has handed much of its Earth-orbiting work to private industry, including SpaceX, Orbital ATK and Boeing.
Earlier in Adelaide, Lockheed Martin presented its vision for a ‘‘Mars Base Camp’’ in partnership with Nasa.
Astronauts could be on their way in about a decade, the com- pany said. This first mission would orbit the Red Planet, rather than landing.
Musk intends to finance his US$10 billion Mars endeavour by using a rocket smaller than the one outlined last year. Fewer engines would be needed: 31 versus the originally envisioned 42. Its lift capability would be 150 tonnes – more than Nasa’s old Moon rocket, the Saturn V.
He wants one type of booster and spaceship that can replace the company’s current Falcon 9 rocket, the soon-to-fly Falcon Heavy rocket designed for heavier satellites, and the Dragon capsule used to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and, as soon as next year, astronauts. That way, SpaceX could put all its resources towards this new system, Musk said. Revenue from launching satellites, and sending supplies and crews to the ISS, could pay for the new rocket.
He said the mega-rocket could be used to establish a lunar settlement, with spaceships being refuelled in Earth orbit as opposed to creating a vital fuel depot on Mars. AP
An artist’s impression of Moon Base Alpha, which would be used by SpaceX as a stepping stone to Mars.