BBC News interviews Elon Musk of Spacex. “My vision is for a fully reusable rocket transport system between Earth and Mars that is able to re-fuel on Mars – this is very important – so you don’t have to carry the return fuel when you go there,” he said.
“The whole system [must be] reusable – nothing is thrown away. That’s very important because then you’re just down to the cost of the propellant.
“We will probably unveil the overall strategy later this year in a little more detail, but I’m quite confident that it could work and that ultimately we could offer a round trip to Mars that the average person could afford -let’s say the average person after they’ve made some savings.”
The entrepreneur described this as about half a million dollars. He conceded the figure was unlikely to be the opening price – rather, the cost of a ticket on a mature system that had been operating for about a decade. Nonetheless, Musk thought such an offering could be introduced in 10 years at best, and 15 at worst.
Spacex Falcon Heavy
* Fly the Spacex heavy rocket
* Make the Spacex Heavy totally reusable
* Develop systems for making fuel on Mars
Some details of the Spacex Mars plan will be revealed later this year and full details in 2013.
“Land on Mars, a round-trip ticket – half a million dollars. It can be done,” he asserts.
Leaving aside how one might define the wealth of an “average person”, this is quite a claim.
To put it in some context – Nasa itself is commissioning its own rocket and capsule system from more established aerospace companies that the agency expects eventually to use on Mars missions.
Few elements of this multi-billion-dollar system will be re-useable and its maiden manned flight – probably a loop around the Moon – may not occur until the early 2020s. A Nasa-led manned mission to the Red Planet is unlikely to happen until the 2030s, and that could be optimistic.
There will be some who will see Elon Musk’s latest remarks as little more than bluster. After all, SpaceX still has much to prove in the here and now.
It has still only ever launched a rocket seven times, and the first three failed. That space station re-supply mission has also repeatedly slipped on its schedule, say the doubters. Space is difficult and SpaceX has yet to show it has suddenly become easy, they add.
Even so, Nasa itself is expecting big things from Musk’s team, and is pushing Congress to release more money in 2013 to seed the development of commercial spaceflight systems like those from SpaceX.