Mars Direct 2.0 Using SpaceX Starship

Dr. Robert Zubrin presented his latest ideas on the Mars Direct plan -a plan to get human beings to the red planet within a decade. From the annual International Space Development Conference organized by the National Space Society and held from June 6-9, 2019 in Arlington, VA.

The first Mars Direct proposal was made by Zubrin in 1990. It is now 29 years later. NASA robotic missions have been very productive.

The NASA Mars plan is absurd. Everything about it is to develop things that are not needed and give inferior capabilities.

Zubrin was on the Ares team in 1988 that made the design for what became the SLS (Space Launch System).

The thinking was that the Ares would be flying by 1994 as it was only the Space Shuttle stack without the orbiter.

120+ tons to low earth orbit will get you 40 tons to trans Mars injection. 120+ tons to LEO would be SpaceX Starship, advanced SLS or a Saturn V.

Robert Zubrin describes how it would be better for Starship to fly to near-earth escape at a delta-V like the trans-lunar injection orbit. This would increase the reuse of the of main flight hardware by 100 times. He proposes flights back from Mars with mini-starships.

Zubrin talks about using the 6-month trip to Mars orbit. This takes about 4.2 km per second delta-V. This orbit has a 2-year orbit back to Earth if they need to abort the trip. Instead of going faster it is better to carry more payload.

SOURCES- Robert Zubrin, Mars Society
Written By Brian Wang,

35 thoughts on “Mars Direct 2.0 Using SpaceX Starship”

  1. i have watched a documentary on the original mars direct, it is now 2020, we would have been to the red planet by now, :,( sad

  2. Mass driver-“With the components shipped from Earth, just to build space-cans of no clear value? NON-STARTER.” . . .
    “If space-cans were required, that’d be yet another expensive strike against SSP.”
    So, nevermind.

  3. “Space-cans in Earth orbit would be more expensive to initiate and expand than a moonbase, due to the eternal ‘delta-V tax’ on all mass delivered there.”
    Except for the very first stuff, which must be Earth launched. O’Neill is counter-intuitive. He has already won. Lunar ISRU, if not further delayed by Mars distractions, is a start of O’Neill exponential growth.
    Build a mass driver, not a Moon base. Build in Space, where it is easy. These things are true at all scales. Robots or humans, or both. Live in Space, not on planets, particularly the Earth. Save the Earth by leaving.
    Planets are too small. That’s the biggie here!

  4. Re: railgun/mass-driver nit-picking – all my points stand: scaling up the toy “mass driver” will not be as easy as you wish it to be. Possible? Sure. With the components shipped from Earth, just to build space-cans of no clear value? NON-STARTER.

    Space Solar Power has to compete with the far easier investment choice of building more solar farms and batteries on Earth. If attempted, it’ll rely on robots remote-controlled from Earth, not human laborers in spacesuits. If space-cans were required, that’d be yet another expensive strike against SSP.

    You’re simply wrong about me and Mars. I long ago settled on ‘whatever path bootstraps humanity permanently into space’. A industrial economy must be established in space to transition from ‘go to space for science’ to “go make a living in space”.

    Right now the moon is looking like the smartest choice.

    Mars mainly has scientific interest and Elon Musk’s drive going for it, balanced by higher costs and risks. Might happen.

    Phobos base would be a bit safer/easier to get started than Mars and is better scientifically (with remote-control robots on Mars and Phobos), but lacks the Elon factor, and bootstrapping industry there would be harder.

    Space-cans in Earth orbit would be more expensive to initiate and expand than a moonbase, due to the eternal ‘delta-V tax’ on all mass delivered there.

  5. “multi-century-away buccolic paradises” Even Island 3 is not multi century away. You totally miss O’Neill’s point. It is NOW easier to live and work in Space than Earth, let alone Mars. Just start ISRU.
    “toy railgun”. Mass driver is far less powerful than railgun, which runs current thru the projectile. At least get the basics correct!
    “a space industrial economy” Such as Space Solar Power. You are addicted to your Mars fantasy, and are grasping at straws.
    Much like another curious anti-O’Neill crowd, the “small worlders” environmentalists, who have gained imagined power telling us all what to do to avoid destroying the “world”, which they think is limited to the Earth. They freak when you destroy their basic assumption. The “world”, as Heinlein points out, is where you can go. O’Neill world is quite large, infinite for practical purposes. As soon as lunar ISRU, the enemy of Mars apparently from your outlook, is started.
    Janov is now being investigated by NASA, which has some interest in these matters. And perhaps some scientific integrity.

  6. I use the term “space-can” specifically to break away from the fantasy of the multi-century-away buccolic paradises O’Neill portrayed. Crude early space-cans need to be driven by a real economic purpose, not by daydreams.

    Scaling that toy railgun up ‘from scratch’ to a full system able to supply space-can construction would be a huge, massively expensive effort. Space-can ISS cost $150B and it doesn’t even rotate for gravity.

    Most of the technologies to construct space-cans (especially using ISRU) don’t exist, and the only realistic way to get all of them is to bootstrap a space industrial economy that develops incrementally and eventually slashes the marginal cost.

    A Phobos rotating space-can would at least provide the opportunity to do that. As would a lunar water mining base or Mars surface colonization.

  7. The mass driver model I saw in the late ’70s in SF Exploratorium looked pretty easy, and it was a primitive set up. A small mass driver will allow building larger ones, in Space, where the manufacturing is easy.
    Now, you are correct about the time line, if we don’t start!
    And calling them Space cans is self humiliating.

  8. Nope, you won’t get sufficient lunar mass drivers until you’ve got extensive lunar bases/colonies with large and varied industrial capacity – basically advanced lunar colonization – at least decades if not a century off. So even building cans in low orbit will rely on either high levels of lunar industrialization OR massive expenditures to ship materials up from Earth.

    Same is true of solar space power. And even if space solar power is economically viable to build and operate (very debatable) AND if the huge investment can be mustered, it will be built using robots – not large cans of humans who don spacesuits.

    If you want to bootstrap space cans, Phobos/Deimos is the best bet I’ve seen.

  9. Launch cargo in slow, minimum energy trajectories.
    Launch crew at high speed with fuel wasting trajectories.

    Sure, they can use a universal Starship for everything but there must be much to win by having a vacuum optimized version that never lands. Replace the 27 raptors with a handful small thrusters for the vacuum version and transfer the crew to a landing starship at each end of the trip.

  10. “big source of raw materials with near zero delta-V access, making expansion cheaper and opening the possibility of actual economic activity – services and exports to balance imports.” That would start with, as O’Neill points out, Space Solar Power, which requires being close to Earth. Asteroids or lunar mass driver, whichever is cheaper. I suspect start with mass driver, use to make asteroid mining robots for further growth. How can you possibly think starting in Mars orbit is anywhere near as good as Globus ELEO?

  11. And what is the reason to live in rotating cans in space?

    A little research and vacations for the super-rich – that’s about it… Anything else can be done better/cheaper other ways…

    Unless the can is parked next to a big source of raw materials with near zero delta-V access, making expansion cheaper and opening the possibility of actual economic activity – services and exports to balance imports.

    You want your O’Neill dream? Instead of fighting the Mars dream, push to park a small rotating station near Phobos or Deimos to do Mars observation, remote-control of robots on Mars surface prior to human landing, investigation of the moons, etc. Probably cheaper and safer than sending crews down to Mars and getting them back.

    Then, pander to the “Pure Mars” crowd that fears humans polluting Mars with Earth life and (somehow) making it impossible to find out if there is any native life there: “We should study Mars from orbit for a few generations, just to be sure!”

  12. It’s kind of weird that this very week I’ve decided to go with patching carbon fibre instead of welding aluminium because the carbon fibre is cheaper and easier to take apart and patch back together.

    It really depends on what equipment you have, what materials are on hand, and your available skills.

  13. I am a fan of G. K. O’Neill’s plans. great that you and Bezos are working actively on them

    I think, planets will be the past, we will live in space

  14. I disagree with Zubrin on several points. For one, I do not think that having a smaller ship makes sense in any way. Second, I think that shorter travel times are very important. The faster you travel, the less problems with long duration space missions, you encounter and the less consumables, you have to take with you.
    Otherwise, you are stuck in having to solve all these issues before you can make the mission and that will just delay things indefinitely, like they have been.

  15. I’ve heard talk that it uses a radar altimeter that gives it constant range to the barge measurements, together with precision GPS for the location.

    My expectation for landing on Mars is that they’d drop some rovers on an earlier mission to check out the intended landing site, and then sit there during the landing to provide some sort of location/altitude reference. Maybe even give Mars its own GPS constellation before the manned missions?

  16. Exactly a point I’ve made: Early Mars colonists would really appreciate having a junkyard full of rockets already sitting there. And they’re stainless steel, not carbon fiber, which means they can be easily cut apart and welded together into whatever you need.

  17. Well, fortunately, he’s going to be launching Starlink with rockets intended for Mars. There’s a lot of common development ahead.

    And then when Starlink reaches full deployment, and the launch cadence for it drops off to maintenance levels, he’s going to have excess capacity for rockets intended for Mars missions. Convenient, that.

    In the mean time, I suspect he won’t have that much trouble finding somebody willing to slip him a few hundred million for a ride share to Mars, if he plans a mission.

  18. Something I wonder about – do SpaceX Falcon boosters land completely autonomously, or are they reliant on Earth-based radar and/or signalling? I.e., how do they know their altitude and descent velocity? Is GPS sufficient for those as well as position?

    I’m thinking about how Starship will be able to land on Mars… Radar on the side?

  19. Well, to be fair, Zubrin is making the point that sending a full Starship to Mars reduces the ability to reuse it, so it isn’t just a delta-V argument he is making. Returning it to Earth after sending a Mars ship on its way would get it back where it can actually be reused and earn money for SpaceX.

    But your point about needing to design (and test!) a separate and smaller Mars vehicle is valid. I kind of agreed with Zubrin for a while, but then realized that there really couldn’t BE a more valuable use for the Starship, than to send crew to Mars and return them safely, if you’re going to send something anyhow.

    In fact, the most valuable use for the initial cargo Starships to Mars would be to LEAVE them on Mars. Simply from a mass standpoint – each would be about 85 tons of useful mass on the surface, not counting payload. Break them down into components: fuel and oxygen storage tanks, spare parts potentially needed by crew return ships, pressurizable living space, computers and radios and radar and other electronics, raw materials for crafting stuff like solar concentrating mirrors, etc.

    Maybe we aren’t ready to send people one-way to Mars, but surely we can think about it for cargo ships?

  20. Any Musk driven Mars mission is contingent on the success of Starlink. His two main priorities are Starship development and Starlink commercial deployment. After Starlink begins generating revenue and can profit, he can then think about Mars trips. He will need the cash from Starlink revenue to begin flowing first. Given these factors and the deployment schedule for Starlink is not going to be even partially functional until 2021, with full deployment in 2024. Any earnest attempts to invest in building the rockets and other equipment for a Mars mission is not gong to happen until after 2025, unless NASA suddenly falls in love with him and hands him a budget in the tens of billions.

  21. I wanna point to a comment under the YT video, maybe Zubrin really is stuck in his mindset:

    “Zubrin is stuck in a historical mindset. Starship CANNOT stage because it is a single vehicle. To develop his “mini starship” adds $5-10+ billion to the project. He is fixated with delta-v and cost as only a function of specific purpose, but Super-Heavy/Starship is all about reusability. SHS can be used for ALL launch requirements (to VLEO and beyond) because its reusability makes it cheaper than all “traditional” vehicles. Also, the change to stainless steel greatly reduces the cost of each vehicle, so the time between going to Mars and being used again becomes all but irrelevant. Starship is not a Mars only vehicle it is a jack-of-all-trades at a lower cost, BECAUSE of REUSABILITY. Stop thinking about delta-v and start thinking about manufacturability and reusability.”

  22. We should consider the use of areobraking in going to Mars and coming back. We will need to do more R&D but it would theoretical increase the payload that we could send to Mars and reduce the cost.

  23. It’s also good because NASA’s recent history suggests that if the Mars mission is driven by NASA priorities it will be delayed a minimum of a decade, and vastly degraded if it ever happens.

    The best scenario is that Musk drives the Mars mission, and so it is designed according to HIS philosophy, and to his ends. Not over a year getting there just to kick around for a week and then head back, but instead staying at least until the next conjunction building a permanent base.

  24. NASA was ordered to do Luna first, on very tight schedule. There will be no Mars talk in NASA until 2024, as they are overcommitted until then. Also, assuming they succeed, they will prefer to escalate their success, rather than abandon it and try a much more difficult destination with negative near- or medium-term value. Also, China is committed to Lunar project, and there is an aspect of competition between powers. As a result, Mars will have to be done by SpaceX on their own at least for a decade or so. And good that it is so — Mars will still be there in a decade, a century, a millenium. The rush is purely human factor; in other words, it is premature and counterproductive. Lunar project can, would and should give the industrial foundation for space expansion. This is infinitely more valuable than planting a flag on another rock.

  25. I always felt Mars Direct was to show it’s possible and as a well-researched starting point for anybody who attempts a Mars journey. Zubrin is smart enough to know this plan isn’t going to happen exactly.

  26. As far as I know, SpaceX Starship plan already took inspiration on Mars Direct by considering ISRU fuel production and refueling.

    Other than that, it’s an ongoing real plan with hardware in production vs a paper plan that has no chance to exist anywhere else than on whatever SpaceX’s plan does.

    Interplanetary crewed space projects are of such nature. Without a serious amount of money and a decades long business track behind you, the only thing you can do about them is dream.

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