Mars plan a boon for earth­bound trav­ellers

Sunday News - - WORLD -

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

PHOTO: SPACEX

An artist’s im­pres­sion of Moon Base Al­pha, which would be used by SpaceX as a step­ping stone to Mars.

Elon Musk

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