June 10, 2016

Spacex will use Falcon Heavy for 2018 Mars Mission, then at least two Falcon Heavies in 2020 and then a Mars Colonial Transporter in 2022

Starting as soon as 2018, Musk’s SpaceX plans to fly an unmanned spacecraft to Mars. The unmanned flights would continue about every two years, timed for when Earth and Mars are closest in orbit, and, if everything goes according to plan, build toward the first human mission to Mars with the goal of landing in 2025, Musk has said.

But in an interview with The Post this week, Musk laid out additional details for the first time, equating the spirit of the missions with the settlement of the New World by the colonists who crossed the Atlantic Ocean centuries ago. And he acknowledged the immense difficulties of getting to a planet that is, on average, 140 million miles from Earth.

Musk said the unmanned flights would carry science experiments and rovers to the planet. The equipment would be built either by SpaceX, or others. The early flights also would serve to better understand interplanetary navigation and allow the company to test its ability to safely land craft on Mars.

“Essentially what we’re saying is we’re establishing a cargo route to Mars,” he said. “It’s a regular cargo route. You can count on it. It’s going happen every 26 months. Like a train leaving the station. And if scientists around the world know that they can count on that, and it’s going to be inexpensive, relatively speaking compared to anything in the past, then they will plan accordingly and come up with a lot of great experiments.”

SpaceX's 2018 trip would use what the company calls its Dragon spacecraft boosted into space by Falcon Heavy, a massive rocket powered by 27 first-stage engines. When it flies for the first time later this year, it would become the “most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two,” SpaceX says on its website. Falcon Heavy would have more than 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, or about the equivalent of 18 747 airplanes.

By the next launch window, in 2020, Musk said the company would aim to fly at least two Falcon Heavy rockets and Dragon spacecraft, loaded with experiments. “By that time there will be quite a few organizations … that are interested in running experiments on Mars,” he said.

Then in 2022, Musk said he hoped to launch what the company now sometimes refers to as the Mars Colonial Transporter, designed to bring a colony to Mars.

Spacex would have to “get lucky and things go according to plan” to hit a launch window for manned flight in late 2024, with a landing in 2025.

Early plans for the MCT launch vehicle, made public in April 2014, consisted of one or three cores with a 10-meter (33 ft) diameter which is comparable to the Saturn V. At the time, the rocket was slated to use nine Raptor LOX/methane engines to power each core. The possibility of eliminating any tri-core version design, and modifying the MCT launch vehicle design to a single-core but larger-diameter vehicle—12.5 to 15 meters (41 to 49 ft) core diameter—was raised in late 2014 and further confirmed by Musk in early 2015.

Post 2015 single core MCT design

SOURCES- Washington Post, michelresidence

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