Elon Musk plans to start colonising Mars by 2024

On September 29th, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk unveiled his amended plan for colonising Mars within the near future. This plan was a more reasonable iteration of the plan announced last year at the 68th International Astronautical Congress. Back then, Musk announced a 40 foot wide ITS (Interplanetary Transport System) booster with 42 Raptor engines compared to the current Falcon 9’s 9 Merlin engines.

Artist’s impression of first Mars colony

The booster would launch the Mars spaceships to orbit, then return back to Earth, to be refuelled and quickly sent back up to deliver a tanker to refuel the spaceships before their journey to Mars. SpaceX’s re-usability efforts would allow these launches tooccur in quick succession. Each spaceship could carry about 100 people and they would orbit Earth until all the ships are ready for departure. Such launches would occur during travel windows to the red planet (which occur about every 26 months) where numerous ships would be sent at once. Upon arriving at Mars, these ships would be refuelled using locally produced methane and oxygen based propellant and sent back to Earth.

However, at the time, the plan seemed quite unreasonable as it seemed much too expensive and in a short time frame. However, on Friday, Musk addressed those problems and revealed the new plan which retains the same basic idea.

During Friday’s talk, Musk referred to the new rocket as the “BFR” (Big F***ing Rocket.) To make the whole system more reasonable, this rocket has been scaled down from the 42 Raptor engines to “just” 31.

BFR releasing a satellite in Earth orbit

One of the biggest changes has to do with the affordability of the whole idea.

“In last year’s presentation, we were really searching for what the right way — how do we pay for this thing?” he said. “We went through various ideas — do a Kickstarter, collecting underpants. These didn’t pan out. But now we think we’ve got a way to do it.”

Musk’s big idea is downsizing the system, but using it for all SpaceX operations instead, such as satellite launches. This allows SpaceX to focus all its resources on the development of the BFR while still allowing it to be used for other and smaller missions. Musk even outlined a plan to use the BFR for planetary travel advertising it as “Anywhere on Earth in under an hour

“If we can do that, then all the resources that are used for Falcon 9, Heavy and Dragon can be applied to this system. That’s really fundamental,” Musk said. “We believe that we can do this with the revenue we receive for launching satellites and for servicing the space station.”

SpaceX will, however, “build ahead” and keep a stock of Falcon 9s and Dragons around for a while, in case customers wish to use those vehicles during the early days of BFR operation, Musk added.

The main goal is Mars, but Musk said that the BFR will be able to land pretty much anywhere in the Solar System. He envisions the ships helping to build outposts on the moon.

BFR resupplying the ISS

“It’s 2017; we should have a lunar base by now,” he said. “What the hell is going on?”

SpaceX also plans to keep work closer to home such as ISS resupplies and even passenger flights.

Musk showed off his idea for Earth-to-Earth trips using the BFR allowing passengers to travel to most places in half an hour and anywhere on Earth under 1 hour. The rocket would launch out of the atmosphere where it can reach a speed of 27,000km/h. You may think this will be very expensive, but after the talk Musk followed up on Instagram saying “Cost per seat should be about the same as full fare economy in an aircraft. Forgot to mention that.”

Animation demonstrating the whole process:

Mars

When the presentation screen showed “2022”, Musk felt the need to elaborate: “That’s not a typo…”

Elon Musk’s company now begins serious work on the BFR. He plans on sending two cargo ships in 2022 to confirm existence of the required resources and to prepare the infrastructure for future crewed missions. If everything goes smoothly, 2024 will be the year the first crewed mission to the red planet will depart from Earth marking an extraordinary event in our history. Upon arrival, humans will officially be an interplanetary species. Sounds cool, right?

The long-term goal is “terraforming Mars and making it really a nice place to be,” Musk said.

Musk's plans in pictures

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