If there is one name among the few who excite the minds of space exploration futurists it is that of Elon Musk. In particular, his plan to send humans to Mars incites most curiosity and, indeed, incredulity. But there is no doubting his ambition.
The blog of February this year looked at Spaceships and SpaceX: https://claytongraham.com.au/spaceships-and-spacex/
Let’s now expand further and look to Mars, and have an overall look at his companies’ plans to create human habitats on the Red Planet.
Who is Elon Musk?
Maybe a brief introduction to the charismatic person behind these fantastic plans is a good starting point. Musk was born to a Canadian mother and South African father and raised in South Africa. He moved to Canada at the age of 17 and attended Queen’s University. Two years later he moved to the University of Pennsylvania where he received bachelor’s degrees in economics and physics. In 1995 he went to attend Stanford University and then decided to pursue a business career, co-founding a web software company with his brother. This start-up was acquired by Compaq for US$307 million in 1999. The same year, Musk co-founded online bank X.com which merged with Confinity in 2000 to form PayPal, later to be purchased by eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion.
In 2002 Musk founded SpaceX and from there the sky has been the limit.
It is interesting to note that during his hosting of Saturday Night Live in May 2021, Musk stated that he has Asperger Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder.
The Starship Vehicle and the Mission
Starship will be the world’s most powerful launch vehicle ever developed, with the ability to carry in excess of 100 metric tonnes to Earth orbit. Drawing on an extensive history of launch vehicle and engine development programs, SpaceX has been rapidly iterating on the design of Starship and by the time the company is ready for Mars, it will no doubt evolve some more.
Together the Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket create a reusable transportation system capable of orbit refuelling. They also hope to use Mars’ natural H2O and CO2 resources to refuel on the surface of Mars.
Starship intends to use tanker vehicles (essentially the Starship spacecraft minus the windows) to refill the Starship spacecraft in low-Earth orbit prior to departing for Mars. Refilling on-orbit enables the transport of up to 100 tons all the way to Mars. And if the tanker ship has high reuse capability, the primary cost becomes that of the propellant, and the cost of oxygen and methane is relatively low.
Starship will enter Mars’ atmosphere at 7.5 kilometres per second and decelerate aerodynamically. The vehicle’s heat shield is designed to withstand multiple entries, but given that the vehicle is coming into Mars’ atmosphere so hot, it is expected that there will be some ablation of the heat shield.
The Martian Plan – 30 years from now
What happens on Mars is just as thought-provoking as the technology to get there. Elon Musk is not just interested in getting a few people to Mars and back; he is looking at the creation of an entire city. And he intends to build 100 Starships per year, creating a fleet of 1000 over ten years. When the distance between Earth and Mars is minimal, he hopes to launch three ships a day.
To get an idea of the entire futuristic plan check out this video called THE FIRST TEN THOUSAND DAYS ON MARS: https://youtu.be/G3hPH_bc0Ww
Some salient points are:
- Initial work all done by robots, including the build of a large launch pad.
- First pioneer manned ship will carry a crew of 30, who will stay 2 years and then return.
- Production of fuel for return journeys and soil cultivation on Mars.
- 104 starships per year built on Earth.
- Number of humans surpass robots in just over 2 years.
- 3D printed habitats to be made robotically.
- First baby born on Mars in around 15 years’ time.
- Political system [oh no] and restaurants.
- Aims to be eventually basically self-sufficient.
What can you say? Bold, yet does not include any technology which is currently not known. The timescales seem extremely optimistic but that may not matter as the logic progression holds up.
Other References and further data: