Reusable rockets are the difference between something costing half a percent of GDP and all of GDP.
At a joint press conference with NASA , SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said the company will try a water landing of its Falcon 9 first stage later year (2013). The landing will be the start of a series of flight tests that could culminate with an attempted propulsive landing of a first stage back at its launch site in the middle of 2014, Musk said. A successful propulsive landing would enable reusable rockets which could lower the cost of launching to space by 100 times.
The cost of the propellant is only about 0.3 percent of the cost of rocket. And we have a low cost rocket….The Falcon 9 is 60 million dollars, and that’s for something with four times the thrust of a 747 and about the same liftoff mass. So that’s a good deal. But the propellant is only 200,000 dollars. So if we could use the — hypothetically use — Falcon 9 rocket 1,000 times, then the capital cost would go from being 60 million dollars per flight to 60,000 dollars a flight.
Elon Musk has issues with Mars Cyclers.
You have to have propellant to keep things aligned as [Mars and Earth’s] orbits aren’t [always] in the same plane. In the beginning you won’t have cyclers.
MArs Flyby 2018
This will have to solve some crew life support and radiation shielding issues.
Mars One plans to establish the first human settlement on Mars by April 2023. The first crew of four astronauts migrate to their new planet from Earth, a journey that takes seven months. A new team will join the settlement every two years. By 2033 there will be over twenty people living, working and flourishing on Mars, their new home.
They appear to plan to use Dragon Capsules and inflatable habitats to expand the living area.
Elon wants to make bigger rockets to move hundreds in each launch
Musk envisions sending up much larger rockets and volunteer colonists in batches for the cost of about $500,000 per person. At first, 10 people would be sent to Mars, then larger groups, moving up to 80,000 per year.
I believe they will scale to 100 to 200 people per launch. This would be comparable to the caapcity of colonization ships used in the 1600s to colonize america. However, the key is cost.
Elon does not think using a Dragon to travel to Mars will scale. It would be like living in a minivan for two and a half years.
The new Raptor upper stage engine is likely to be only the first engine in a series of lox/methane engines. Larger engines will be derived from this. For all his arguments noting the advantages of having lots of smaller engine for engine-out redundancy, it is known that Musk has long wanted to have a larger sized engine that the current Merlin 1. Originally this larger engine dubbed Merlin 2 was to have been a generator cycle engine similar to the Merlin 1. This has however now been dropped, again, in favour of a staged-combustion engine using Lox/Methane as propellants. The name of this new rocket engine which is expected to be in the 1.5 million lb thrust class has not been disclosed.
The MCT codename which was incorrectly attributed to this large rocket engine is now instead believed to related to a Mars transport/landing concept with MCT is thought to stand for either Mars Cargo or Mars Crew or Mars Colonial Transport.
To launch such a crew transport vehicle on a journey to Mars, Musk envisions using a reusable heavy lift launch vehicle using a multiple of these newly developed large lox/methane engines on its first stage. Musk declined to state the expected payload capability of such a launch vehicle but noted that it would be much larger than the currently planned Falcon 9 Heavy which will carry 53 tonnes payload to low Earth orbit. Speculation is that they would scale up to 150 ton launches with incremental improvements.
Methane and liquid oxygen are best all-rounder propellants
“We are going to do methane.” Musk announced as he described his future plans for reusable launch vehicles including those designed to take astronauts to Mars within 15 years, “The energy cost of methane is the lowest and it has a slight Isp (Specific Impulse) advantage over Kerosene,” said Musk adding, “And it does not have the pain in the ass factor that hydrogen has”.
Unlike methane, hydrogen is known to have storage and handling difficulties and has the problem of hydrogen embrittlement. Even better, if methane is used as fuel, then the same engine designs might also be able to be used on Mars itself as methane can be extracted from the Martian atmosphere. Methane is also known to be better fuel for reusable engine operations in not having significant coking (carbon deposit) issues that kerosene has to contend with though Musk noted that this was not a main raison for methane’s selection.
The pieces of the plan are coming together
The technical pieces of the plan are coming together. If a propulsive landing is successful in 2014 or the years after, that would be huge in enabling this long term plan.
Elon was “hopeful we can start to bring back the first stage back in the next year or two,” while full reusability would be 5 to 6 years away.
Mars Fixer upper planet
Elon described plans to “terraform” or alter the planet’s climate and landscape to make it more hospitable to life, to Forbes back in 2003.
Initial colonists need to eat a vegetarian diet because that is ten times more energy efficient.
Accompanying the founders of the new Mars colony would be large amounts of equipment, including machines to produce fertilizer, methane and oxygen from Mars’ atmospheric nitrogen and carbon dioxide and the planet’s subsurface water ice.
The Red Planet pioneers would also take construction materials to build transparent domes, which when pressurized with Mars’ atmospheric CO2 could grow Earth crops in Martian soil. As the Mars colony became more self sufficient, the big rocket would start to transport more people and fewer supplies and equipment.
He envisions using the spacecraft’s liquid water store as a barrier between the Mars pioneers and the sun.
Musk’s $500,000 ticket price for a Mars trip was derived from what he thinks is affordable.
“The ticket price needs to be low enough that most people in advanced countries, in their mid-forties or something like that, could put together enough money to make the trip,” he said, comparing the purchase to buying a house in California.
Musk figures the colony program — which he wants to be a collaboration between government and private enterprise — would end up costing about $36 billion. He arrived at that number by estimating that a colony that costs 0.25 percent or 0.5 percent of a nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) would be considered acceptable.
If Elon wants to live to see millions on Mars and this does not fully ramped up until the middle of the 21st century then Elon may have to devote a few hundred million of his billions to pay for radical life extension like SENS. This would also be a good thing.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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