SpaceX Updated Mars Colonization Plans from Paul Wooster

SpaceX Principal Mars Development Engineer Paul Wooster talked about SpaceX Starship and Super Heavy (BFR) at Mars Society Convention 2019. Paul described the impact of full reusability for the Super Heavy Starship to lower costs. He also described the in-orbit refueling to get large payloads to Mars, the Moon and other destinations.

Paul confirmed that early Starships will remain on Mars.

A prime focus on the iterations of Starship is to reduce the weight of construction and to enable payloads for real missions. Each new version of the Starship will reduce the construction time, lower costs and reduce the weight.

The target is to have an unmanned Super Heavy Starship mission to Mars in 2022 and for a manned mission in 2024.

Mass cures a lot of sins. Existing technology can be used for Mars missions when you are able to bring 100 to 150 tons to Mars.

SpaceX is ramping up mass production of the new ceramic heat shield.

SpaceX believes the ceramic heat shield and metal body will enable rapid reuse of the vehicles.

SpaceX Raptor engine development is also advancing. They have built twelve Raptor engines so far. They have throttled up to 105% power in tests.

Raptor engines have less soot, which reduces maintenance costs and time.

They are using autogenous pressurization. They recycle some of the oxygen and methane to keep pressure instead of using helium. This helps to eliminate the helium tank and parts.

Helium is expensive and there is no helium on Mars.

They will limit the Mars re-entry to 5Gs while still having a fast transit time. 5Gs is the NASA limit for a de-conditioned crew. Nextbigfuture notes that if the travel to Mars had rotating Starships tethered together for simulated gravity, then the crew would not be de-conditioned. This would enable faster transit and higher G re-entry.

Starship Mark 4 Cylinder Segments Have Been Built

There will be static fire tests in weeks for the Mark 4. They will build a lot and test a lot.

Highlights of the Wooster Talk by What About It?

NASA Moxie Mission

Human explorers need about 33 to 50 tons (30 to 45 metric tons) of fuel, about the weight of a Space Shuttle.

The Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment is better known as MOXIE. NASA is preparing for human exploration of Mars, and MOXIE will demonstrate a way that future explorers might produce oxygen from the Martian atmosphere for propellant and for breathing. MOXIE is a 1% scale model aboard the planned Mars 2020 rover. MOXIE will launch June 2020.

Mars 2020 rover will launch August 2020.

SOURCES- Mars Society, SpaceX, Paul Wooster, What About It?, Space News Pods
Written By Brian Wang,

33 thoughts on “SpaceX Updated Mars Colonization Plans from Paul Wooster”

  1. True. NASA is already working on a nuclear reactor for space (Kilopower and its larger variants), so this can be left to NASA. It may take a while if left to them, but SpaceX can’t do everything on their own anyway.

    As long as the subsystems are sufficiently decoupled, they can start with whatever works now, and hook it up to a nuclear reactor when one becomes available.

    Btw, google for “E-TAC water splitting”. They’re claiming over 98% energy efficiency.

  2. The Sabatier reaction is mildly exothermic, it only needs to be supplied heat to get it started, and make up for any excess heat loss. Most of the power will be consumed in the electrolysis system. So, thinking about it, might as well just have a nuclear reactor to supply electricity and process heat, (Melting the water!) and start the Sabatier with resistance heaters off it.

    Coming up with a decent space rated fission reactor for a Mars colony is going to be a challenge, and maybe more of a political challenge than engineering. That might be why Musk is talking about using solar.

  3. If the heat comes in via heat pipes, they could hook it up to more or less any heat source they want, and replace it with something else later. Electric heater powered by solar panels, RTG (if it can generate enough heat), kilopower, etc. The 300-400 C needed for Sabatier should be doable with heat pipes.

  4. “a Sabatier reactor (like the one on the ISS, but bigger)”

    They really need to develop a Sabatier reactor that uses nuclear power to supply the heat. The temperature required is not outrageous, and it could double for electricity production.

  5. Not entirely true as overpressure can start in the preburner from instability that fluctuates and amplifies very quickly. Can also start in other places like in the combustion chamber or pumps etc.

  6. Forget the face tracking mike, I’d have settled for standing closer to the mike on the stand, if they couldn’t bother with wireless lapel mikes. Which are the sort of technology you can pick up at Walmart with pocket change.

  7. I think what he meant was, if your payload is 150 tons instead of say 10 tons, you don’t have to spend bazillions optimizing equipment, rovers etc. for minimum mass.

  8. So roughly, I get the following numbers:

    BFS: dry mass 105 t, fuel 1200 t, payload 150 t, length 50 m, 6 raptors
    Booster: fuel 3300 t, length 68 m, 37 SL raptors.
    Raptors: 1.5 t (from Wiki), SL Isp 330 s, vac Isp 380 s.

    No dry mass data on the booster, but given the above: 37*1.5 + (105 – 6*1.5)*68/50 + rounding = ~190 t.

    GTOW: ~4950 t
    Booster max delta-v = 9.8 * 330 * ln(4950/1650) = ~3.5 km/s.

    Since it needs some to RTLS, ~2.5-3 km/s available boost for the BFS.

    BFS launch delta-v, fully fueled and loaded: 9.8 * 330 * ln(1455/255) = ~5.6 km/s
    If it can use only the vac raptors: 9.8 * 380 * ln(1455/255) = ~6.5 km/s

    Total: ~8-9.5 km/s.

    The best case is just barely enough to enter LEO, with no delta-v left for RTLS.
    With 125 t payload, best case is 6.8 for BFS, 9.8 total. If the payload stays in orbit, that may be just enough margin for RTLS.

    So for refueling, I’ve heard mentioned before that the latest BFS is expected to reach LEO with 150 t of fuel left. That would require 1050 t to top off, and could allow a tanker to transfer ~210 t per flight (out of 300 = 150 payload + 150 reserve), allowing the claimed 5 refueling flights. But there was no mention of that in the video, and it doesn’t seem to fit the above numbers. But I’m probably missing some details.

  9. So many possibilities for the “D” in “TBD”: Discussed, Defined, Designed, Developed, Disclosed, Delivered. Hopefully not Destroyed During Delivery.

  10. spacex chould just send spaceship to mars and moon loaded only with water tanks… then sell it to nasa at a latter date for a million dollars a gallon…

  11. There are two main scenarios off the top of my head:

    1. They recycle their oxygen and water as much as they can. This will be needed for the transit, and can work for a limited time, but current life support tech can’t recycle 100%, so it would only work for a while.

    2. More likely, they’ll have to use ISRU once they get there (backed by some amount of partial recycling). In which case, they’ll need to obtain water from ISRU just as importantly as oxygen. But once you have water, it’s reasonably straightforward to combine it with CO2 from the Martian atmosphere to get both oxygen and methane. A small version of the necessary chemical equipment is already being used on the ISS.

    So what they’ll really need to bring is the equipment to extract water, and split it. That would already give them water and oxygen. I don’t see how they can survive long-term without mining any water, even if they can extract oxygen directly from other sources (CO2 or regolith oxides). (So I also don’t see much point to NASA’s MOXIE experiment, other than another jobs and funding program.)

    If they want to make methane, they’ll need to add pumps and compressors for the atmospheric CO2, a Sabatier reactor (like the one on the ISS, but bigger), and some other equipment to purify the reactants and products, compress them, liquefy them, etc. Granted, it’s more complex than just bringing extra methane, but there’s hardly any new tech involved, and it’s much more bang for the buck to bring the equipment.

  12. I was saying that a while back: Mars needs junk yards.

    And Musk is proposing colonization, not scientific exploration. Ideally you’d be sending nobody to Mars who was planning on returning. Anything you might send to enable a return trip would be better spent supporting the colonists.

    At the very least, the first people heading to Mars should be planning on being there a couple of years, not the couple of weeks NASA would plan for.

    Yes, they need an on board fuel factory. The main power need for a Sabatier reactor is heat, so this is an ideal application for nuclear power. We need an integrated nuclear Sabatier reactor that just produces a bit of electricity on the side.

    Unfortunately, I get the impression that Musk is invested in this alternative energy thing. Though it may just be he doesn’t want the hassle of dealing with the anti-nuclear freaks.

    The nice thing about producing methane and oxygen on Mars, is that it’s relatively easy to feed part of the output into an additional reactor, and also manufacture polyethylene, too. Significant research has been done on this.

  13. One of the cargo ships will probably have on-board fuel production, but the crew ship? It’s just additional weight that could be used for life support.

  14. The mass flow is limited into the chamber by the injector nozzles, so any pressure spike would have to occur in the tanks somehow first, to overpressure the pre-burners, to overpressure the chamber.

  15. Cool, but I’ve got the sound on my computer turned up to max, and I can hardly hear it. And I’m not completely deaf yet, it’s the recording.

    I’m serious: Do these people not understand that you have to stand reasonably close to a microphone if you want your voice recorded?

  16. Anyone have an opinion on 105%. That seems to me to be a bit low for testing. I would have thought it would be tested at much higher levels to cater for engineering tolerances and over pressure anomalies. Or is there scope for higher load testing?

    BTW: “Mass cures a lot of sins”. Was this a tongue-in-cheek play on words? 🙂

  17. Not really what I was focusing on, but they will probably have an on-board fuel factory anyhow as they’ll want at least a full load of fuel on Mars surface before the first crew lands.

    My point was that someone at SpaceX is realizing that Starship is payload too – i.e. lots of stuff that can be recycled/reused/repurposed for a Mars base, rather than a super-valuable artifact that needs to come back to Earth if at all possible.

  18. Well, I don’t see how they would be able to get the first Starships back without refuling on Mars first (I.E setting up fuel production on site)
    ? Or can they carry enough fuel to make the trip back as well?

  19. I am getting the strong impression that SpaceX and Musk are mostly leaving the composition and engineering of Mars missions (beyond “how to get there”) on their “TBD” list – understandably given all they have on their plates. I think Musk has explicitly asked for 3rd parties to start coming up with plans.

    Is anyone – NASA or the Mars Society or anyone – taking it as seriously as a 2022 cargo and 2024 crew mission would demand?

  20. Risky to go all O2. Much better to buffer it, especially since they’ll likely be processing atmosphere anyhow to make tons of methane and O2.

  21. It would have been nice for the Principle Mars Development Engineer to have spent more time talking about Mars development and not just about the transportation side of things which has already been covered by Elon.

  22. That’s definitely a step further that can bring further halving of the mass that is needed to be brought down to Mars for the return fuel. Maybe with refueling also on the way back it creates enough economy to bring back the silos from Mars to Earth with some load.

  23. converting marian air into breathable air requires extracting the 2% argon and 2% nitrogen In Marian air separately and adding it back into the co2 to oxygen conversion…. alternatively… they could just breath pure oxygen the whole time….with out adding a noble gas into the mix to reduce it down to earth percentages for oxygen…

  24. If they make it to mars using machines to compress and convert Marian air into oxygen they will also be breathing oxygen mixed with argon because mars has relatively more argon compared to nitrogen…Compared to earth… which means that mars astronauts will have a deeper voice than on earth because argon is heavier than nitrogen.. interestingly… they use oxygen and argon mixtures for deep sea diving

  25. Zubrin in “The Case For Mars” proposed bringing hydrogen to react with CO2 to make methane for the 1st few trips. Finding water on Mars might now be certain enough that using locally available water to provide the hydrogen would be the best option.

  26. Agree, the first landed ships should be bringing zero assembly factories and modules with things required for survival.

    Energy, water, O2 and methane fuel are among the first things they will need. And food plus pressurized human habitats, of course.

    The first manned mission will probably be a bit redundant in some things, just for reducing the chances of catastrophic failure due to mass restrictions. But the huge payload of Starship is precisely meant to allow such scenarios.

    This would be similar in some respects to the scenario imaged by Kim Stanley Robinson in his ‘Red Mars’ novel. Where the 1st 100 mission was described as having a lot of supplies and machines already waiting for them in the surface.

    Except that in real life, the cargo and the crewed ships would be using the same basic design.

  27. The should land one starship containing a ready to go fully autonomous Oxygen production unit from the martian atmosphere. It will be energized by a built in nuclear power unit. The methane for the return flight which is more difficult to make and has less mass than the oxygen they should bring with them initially, possibly on another starship. This will allow them I think enough fuel to return to earth, maybe with one more refueling along the way back.

  28. Nice they have ambitious objectives.

    Just remember this schedule is strongly dependent on how well their Starship/SH tests fare.

    Any mishap and schedules will shift. Human casualties (which we hope don’t happen, but these are rockets going to space after all) would delay things significantly.

    But best of luck! the frontier really is for the bold and things have to start somewhere, at some time. Because so far it looks as if NASA and the rest of public space agencies will keep us tied to the ground for good.


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