Elon Says SpaceX Could Land Cargo Mission to Moon in 2021

In an interview with Time magazine, Elon Musk thinks SpaceX could land a cargo mission to the moon in less than two years. Time magazine editor-at-large Jeffrey Kluger’s interview with Elon Musk for CBS Sunday Morning.

Elon thinks a manned mission to the moon is possible by 2022.

This would be three years faster than NASA’s current plans to use the ULA Space Launch System to get back to the moon. It would be two years faster than NASA’s planned human moon in 2024.

Jeff DeWit, NASA’s chief financial officer, told Business Insider that if Musk and SpaceX pull off a private moon landing in 2021 then NASA will partner with SpaceX and get there faster. It is unclear when SpaceX will have proven enough to NASA for them to finally make the shift.

Elon Musk said that it may literally be easier to just land Starship on the moon than try to convince NASA that we can.

Key Sections of the Transcript of the CBS Morning Interview With Elon Musk


MUSK: [We’re] basically taking everything we’ve learned from Falcon 9 and putting it into Starship. Starship is super next level.

KLUGER: It seems to be, and that a question that I would like to ask you.

MUSK: Yeah, Starship’s mind-blowing. I mean, there’s not even anything that’s ever been proposed on on the caliber of Starship that I’m aware of.

KLUGER: You don’t have to be a space geek like I am to know that you folks are building some beautiful machines. The original Falcon was sleek and lean and beautiful. The 9 is terrific. The Heavy, it’s the biggest machine flying today.

MUSK: Yes.

KLUGER: You could get to the moon with maybe two Heavies, it would take, or maybe just one Heavy?

MUSK: Yeah. Well, I think you probably would wanna do it with two, but you could absolutely do it with three.

KLUGER: And in that case, I guess my question is instead of going with what you’ve got and saying, “Let’s get ourselves to the moon in three years,” you’re going an even more ambitious step further with Super-Heavy, the BFR and Starship.

MUSK: Well, I think we could sort of repeat Apollo 11 and do a few, small missions, send people back to the moon. But it would be somewhat of a repeat of Apollo. And it’s like, the remake’s never as good as the original. (LAUGHS)

So I think, like, we really wanna have a vehicle that is capable of sending enough payload to the moon or Mars, such that we could have a full lunar base, a permanently occupied lunar base would be, I know, incredible. You know, we’ve got a permanently occupied base in Antarctica. And it’d be absolutely way cooler to have a science base on the moon.

KLUGER: I would agree on that, yeah.

MUSK: Yeah. It’d be super great. And so if you’re having a base on the moon now you need a lotta cargo. If you look at, say, the lunar lander it was pretty small.

KLUGER: It was tiny.

KLUGER: And it was made out aluminum foil origami, basically!

MUSK: Yes, exactly. It was incredible engineering. But just very tiny. So we need something big. To have a self-sustaining city on Mars, you gotta decide, “Okay, how you gonna get a million tons to Mars?”

KLUGER: Larger goals, if you had to bet your house on when the next boot prints would be on the moon and when those would be SpaceX? So those may be two different questions. This is just spit-balling. What kind of timeframe do you see?

MUSK: Well, this is gonna sound pretty crazy, but I think we could land on the moon in less than two years. Certainly with an un-crewed vehicle I believe we could land on the moon in two years. So then maybe within a year or two of that we could be sending crew. I would say four years at the outside.

KLUGER: And when you say, “We,” do you mean the United States or you mean SpaceX?

MUSK: Well I’m not sure, I mean, if we’ve got two choices, which, if it were to take longer to convince NASA and the authorities that we can do it versus just doing it, then we might just do it. I think we wanna aim to do it and then enable our capability, but it may literally be easier to just land Starship on the moon than try to convince NASA that we can. It might actually be easier to just do it. I don’t know. ‘Cause obviously this is, like, a decision authority that’s out of my hands. But the sheer amount of effort required to convince a large number of skeptical engineers at NASA that we can do it is very high. And not unreasonably so, ’cause they’re like, “Uh, come on. How could this possibly work?” But the skepticism, they’d have good reasons for it. But the for sure way to end the skepticism is just do it.

KLUGER: Just do it, yeah–

MUSK: “Hey, look. Here’s a picture of landing there right now!” (LAUGHS) That might be the better way to do it. We’ll see. But I think sending crews to Mars in four years, I think that sounds pretty doable. Like, internally we would aim for two years and then reality might be four.

Elon Also Talked About Launching With Planes for an Initial Stage

Getting to orbit from an aircraft is actually counterproductive according to Elon. It sort of seems like it would be helpful. But it’s really not that helpful. The aircraft maybe helps 2% and then all the negatives of an aircraft are minus 20%. It’s like a 10x difference. For suborbital flight aircraft is fine. But not for orbit.

SOURCES – CBS, Elon Musk, Time Magazine Editor, Business Insider
Written By Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com

30 thoughts on “Elon Says SpaceX Could Land Cargo Mission to Moon in 2021”

  1. After 70yrs of US incredible manned lunar exploration with rover riding fun, where the most powerful supercomputer then is not even a fraction of our current oldest smart phone processing power, Americans are still not able to build any heavy lift rocket to sent payload to moon with the best technology.

    And NASA still can’t figure out how to repeat the Hollywood trick of using same alu foil origami lunar lander to fly 2-ways with two astronauts and a heavy fun riding Ford rover. Even space suite is targeted at 2022. They said all 70yo technologies have been forgotten, they can’t repeat.

    What a hoax. Only Americans can believe of their own crude joke.
    http://centerforaninformedamerica.com/moondoggie-1/

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  2. True, they would need to send dozens of Falcon Heavy to make a base. Whereas the BFR can hold the cargo to create a colony and, if according to plan, would be a colony in of itself.

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  3. They aren’t planning to land in the open, then they would truly have problems. But I think (I may be wrong) that Elon and Nasa mentioned being in a South Pole Crater.

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  4. Even if time doubles Elon probably still be ahead of agencies like Nasa. Remember, this is a permanent settlement, even if it is postponed to late 20’s it will still be a feat.

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  5. The rocket with three boosters. You do know I am writing a comment for an internet forum, not a Phd thesis.

    If you want to go to the moon don’t hamstrung yourself my imposing limits that aren’t needed.

    He has the ability now to put large weights into orbit. He can work for there.

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  6. The only problem with Starship to the moon is that, from a radiation standpoint, being at the top of a tower in a steel enclosure is basically the worst place possible. Primary cosmic rays are more dangerous by passing through steel. Definitely drop a Bigelow habitat to the surface for any extended operations past a few days.

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  7. Hmm, I’d have to see numbers on that, since Starship by design can both land empty on Earth, and land cargo on Mars. It’d seem weirdly unlucky if landing cargo on the Moon were outside that envelope. Especially since a moon landing must have been considered by their engineers, so it’d have to be far enough outside that they didn’t stretch to include it.

    I also suspect the legs are already good enough for a Mars landing, since Mars is the main goal. Plus they do barge landings.

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  8. People landing. Viewers would be glued to their screens for people landing. A simple rocket landing on the moon happens every couple of years and nobody notices.

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  9. A significant amount of added cargo without added fuel capacity implies reduced delta V. I believe that, to increase the weight enough, they’d have to have extra tankage.

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  10. Just do it. We all know that SpaceX will need to launch several demo BFS/BFR flights, might as well make one be to the moon.

    Land, bring some rocks back and give them to Senators and Representatives.

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  11. Sounds like they’d need wider legs to land on Mars as well, so that wouldn’t be Moon-specific.

    As for the weight, what if they just carried cargo?

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  12. No, it’s a thing Musk has talked about, the Falcon Heavy with additional side boosters. The current Falcon Heavy has two side boosters, the proposed Super heavy would have four.

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  13. No, the Starship needs at least some modifications to land on the Moon safely; It’s minimum thrust to weight ratio with the engines throttled down is higher than lunar gravity, so you’d have to “hover-slam” like they do with their returning boosters.

    And the spread of the landing legs is inadequate for a surface not prepared in advance to be flat and level.

    I think the idea way to solve both those problems is to assemble in orbit a frame to attach to the Starship that provides wider legs and enough additional weight to have some control margin on landing.

    And if you’re adding weight, you need more fuel to have enough delta V. So what I’m really suggesting is an external drop tank system to be left behind on the lunar surface.

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  14. Yeah, but the problems are what you learn from, not the successes. If you’re just having successes, you’re not learning, you’re only applying what you already know.

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  15. It sounds like Starship can pretty much handle it as is. It’s already designed to land on Earth and Mars, what’s different about the Moon? It’s not like it relies on wings or parachutes.

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  16. Musk said they could get there with Heavy, but it’d just be a repeat of the Apollo landings. With Starship they could build a base.

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  17. I could sorta see it happen if all the hops and other tests go well, but I’m tempted to apply Musk time and say it’ll more likely take twice as long. So far they’re building the starships pretty quickly, but the hopper has been having problem after problem. The Falcon Heavy had delays too, so prior experience says he’s too optimistic.

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  18. Now that the emergency of killing off the “Mars only” plan is accomplished, we can go back to the basics of G.K. O’Neill 1970s The High Frontier, where it is clear that we should live and work in Space, not on planets. Mars is a planet, as is the Moon, for these ideas. Of course, lunar or asteroidal materials are needed for ISRU, but live in O’Neill Space, not on the Moon or asteroids. Only O’Neill Space Solar Power starter kit is large enuf energy project to avert global heating, for ex:
    http://www.searchanddiscovery.com/pdfz/documents/2009/70070criswell/ndx_criswell.pdf.html

    Make small O’Neills in Equatorial LEO and launch 1,000 at a time with Starship. Forget Mars!

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  19. I remembered been glued to my TV then. Almost two generations have not seen a spectacle like that. I think it will sell.

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  20. I don’t think you’d get enough TV interest if you were just landing.

    Now, a bunch of Boston Dynamics style robot dogs scampering about, doing selfies, and picking up rocks. That would probably get the viewers in.

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  21. Can the ground on the moon support the Starship?
    That vertical design is optimized for atmospheric supersonic travelling. A pitty if it turned over.

    Me thinks they need a vacuum optimized horizontal design to land on unprepared locations. Perhaps like the old Eagle of the Space 1999 sci-fi.

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  22. They will still get the money for the rockets and having others worry about additional design specifications. I would think that the bigger money, without having to make any changes is going to be in around the moon tourism very early after the first starship is going to return intact to earth, few years after the current time goal.

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  23. On the other hand SpaceX is still a private company that needs revenue and apparently NASA is willing to pay for Moon trips. Landing a rocket there gets them that business.

    Besides, it’s not like they need to engineer a launcher. Once they have Starship they can just go ahead fly to the Moon. It won’t even cost that much. So why not do it? Short of a Mars trip there’d be nothing SpaceX could do that’s more inspiring than landing that big 1950’s sci-fi rocket on the Moon, as a little side project for fun.

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  24. They could probably do this with the Falcon Heavy, though the pictures would suggest we need to wait for the Starship.

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  25. They shouldn’t bother doing that really. Just give whoever is interested in going to the moon enough of the specs of the starship to adept it to go to moon missions and anywhere else and continue with the Mars mission. The program has been moving along reasonably well because of its focus.

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