Cargo mis­sions to Mars in 2022

Boston Herald - - OPINION -

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX chief Elon Musk’s elab­o­rate plan for a mega-rocket to carry as­tro­nauts to Mars may have some down-to-Earth ap­pli­ca­tions.

At a con­fer­ence in Aus­tralia yes­ter­day, Musk said if you build a ship ca­pa­ble of go­ing to the moon and Mars, why not use it for high­speed trans­port here at home? He pro­poses us­ing his still-in-the-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.

A seat should cost about the same as a full-fare econ­omy plane ticket, he noted later via In­sta­gram.

Yes­ter­day’s ad­dress was a fol­low-up to one he gave to the group last Septem­ber in Mex­ico, when he un­veiled his grand scheme for col­o­niz­ing Mars. He de­scribed a slightly scaled-down 348-foot­tall rocket and an­nounced that the pri­vate space com­pany aims to launch two cargo mis­sions to Mars in 2022.

“That’s not a typo,” he said, paus­ing, as charts ap­peared on a large screen. “Al­though it is as­pi­ra­tional.”

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 Cen­ter, called it “a bold trans­porta­tion ar­chi­tec­ture with as­pi­ra­tional dates.” A demon­stra­tion of some sort in the 2020s will add to its cred­i­bil­ity, he wrote in an email. And while more de­tails are needed for life-sup­port sys­tems, “Ku­dos to Elon and SpaceX for keep­ing the fo­cus on hu­mans to Mars!”

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 U.S. in­dus­try’s abil­ity to carry out chal­leng­ing and far-reach­ing goals,” Braun wrote in an email. “It’s great to see the pri­vate sec­tor lead in this way, and I hope we see more of it.”

Musk in­tends to fi­nance his $10 bil­lion Mars en­deavor by us­ing a rocket that’s smaller than the one out­lined last year. Fewer en­gines would be needed — 31 ver­sus the orig­i­nally en­vi­sioned 42. Its lift ca­pa­bil­ity would be 150 tons, 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 presently used to de­liver cargo to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion, and, as soon as next year, sta­tion as­tro­nauts.

That way SpaceX can put all its re­sources to­ward this new sys­tem, Musk said. Rev­enue from launch­ing satel­lites, and send­ing sup­plies and crews to the space sta­tion, could pay for the new rocket, he said.

Musk said the same space­ship for moon and Mars trips — long and cylin­dri­cal with small shut­tle-like wings — could fly to the space sta­tion. He said the megarocket could be used to es­tab­lish a lu­nar set­tle­ment, with space­ships be­ing re­fu­eled in Earth’s or­bit ver­sus cre­at­ing a vi­tal fuel de­pot at Mars.


SPACE SHOT: SpaceX founder Elon Musk says the mega-rocket he plans to send to Mars in 2022 should also have the ca­pa­bil­ity to dras­ti­cally shorten flights on Earth.


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