Can SpaceX Hit September 2022 Mars Launch Window?

SpaceX is pushing for an orbital launch this month. They had a successful Starship flight to 10 km and a successful landing. The BN4 has 29 new raptor engines. Three raptor engines were used for high altitude Starship flight and landing. This first orbital flight will not involve a landing attempt. They will drop the booster and the Starship into controlled drops in the ocean.

SpaceX has had over 100 successful booster launches with Falcon 9 rockets. SpaceX has had successful Falcon Heavy launches and landings.

The Starship problems were mainly with landing. SpaceX was far more successful with the Starship test launches.

This bodes well for a successful orbital test flight of the Starship SN20 and the BN4 booster.

SpaceX cost for full 29 engine booster and seven engine Starship may only be about $20-40 million.

The challenge for a 2022 Starship Super Heavy Mars launch attempt is the need for about ten refueling orbital refuelings. There would need to be about ten regular orbital launches for the fuel. Although, they could make a slower transfer with less payload and less fuel. They would need to totally master landing the BN boosters so they do not lose 29 engines from refueling mission. The fuel tank Starships could be left in orbit without landing them or could be recovered from controlled ocean drops and then dried out.

Written By Brian Wang,

58 thoughts on “Can SpaceX Hit September 2022 Mars Launch Window?”

  1. LOL. No. The right question is, "Will China Mars launch be in Sep 2022 to spread single party repressive authorative regime to Mars?"

  2. I guess…..but he says his plan is to build a city on Mars. Unless he steps up and actually puts a team into place planning what is needed I don't see any 'interested parties' ready to use his 'transportation service' to make that happen. Seems to me he better get started doing it himself…he may be able to sell launch services, but I'd bet people will be going after more profitable ventures rather than establishing a sustainable Martian colony any time soon.

  3. And that is the true beauty of regular access to Mars (or anywhere else colonizable in the system.)

    You're not limited to one do-or-die give-it-your-all hail-mary mission. You're not even limited to one mission per synod.

    Indeed, Musk has spoken of multiple ships bearing automated gear and bulk supplies already being on Mars before the first human lifts off from Earth.


    (And again, this is assuming the SS/SH system is up and running somewhat as planned.)

    The fastball special passengers would have to have prep and training.
    Perhaps even a synods worth. Or perhaps less.

    So their share of bulk supplies, their larger bespoke items such as cybertrucks et al, and their ready-to-use habitation would already be on Mars before they left. All they would bring is their personal gear, goods and whatever items that they want to keep with them.

    The 80-ton chip fab etc etc takes the slow boat.

  4. Musk does not have to do that at all.
    There is no shortage of people with deep pockets, grand visions and engineering backgrounds. What has been missing until now is a vehicle capable of delivering 100 tons of "stuff" to Mars.
    People more capable then Musk are already working on exactly what to bring, how to set it up and where to put it. They just need the U-Haul ship(s) and the bill

  5. Musk has stated his intent to use end of life Starships for the colonization trips, and leave them on Mars. And the Mars colony is the purpose of SpaceX. 

    Musk thinks we need a lifeboat, to get some of our eggs out of this basket, or else we're eventually going extinct. You can question the time frame, but he's absolutely right about that.

    The purpose of SpaceX is to build that lifeboat.

  6. Musk plans to sub out virtually everything outside of his rocket to other interested parties.
    His focus is on being a transportation service.

  7. That's basically what I'm thinking, ARB's would have to be non-cryogenic, unpressurized, in the same way MRE's don't require refrigeration. Something that could literally be scattered across the ground in a crash, and still usable. Oxygen candles would probably do the trick.

  8. I tend to think actual colonists would always tend to prioritize cargo, either carried or afforded, over comfort and speed, because the cargo improves their chances of success, and the trip to Mars is a one time thing if you're a colonist. And his 'fastball special' costs a LOT of payload capacity.

  9. I would like to see them at least launch a Falcon Heavy if the Starship is not ready.
    FH is capable of reaching Mars with minimal cargo amounts.

  10. Cyclers are one way, but I prefer Musk's fastball special for his colonist ships.

    Using a fully-fueled but underweight starship you can make a Mars trip in 70 days or less, possibly much less*.
    The ship would be carrying just the colonists, with their luggage and any bulk supplies arranged as a storm shelter.
    *It'll be a balancing act for each trip between # of colonists and how fast the trip will be.

  11. These sound like perfectly fine solutions, as least as you've outlined them. But I wonder who will pay for the multiple spaceships needed to get this all started. SpaceX's selling point is that they can reuse rockets and save millions, if not billions, per launch. Only governments, I think, will pay the billions it would require to set up a colony that won't have a payback for years, if not decades. American political thinking barely extended to the end of the 1960s to land men (no women in that era) on the Moon and bring them back safely again. Today, the political attention span lasts barely a newscycle, except in China, where they don't have to worry about such things.

  12. Those are called air tanks, right? 

    If you want an and unpressurized non-cryogenic oxygen source how about
    the oxygen candles already used in submarines?

    Bulk solid sources of nitrogen sources are also available.

  13. Not really. 

    That old-school mindset is based on limited mass to space at ultra-high prices. 

    SS/SH, when operational, changes that completely. A true paradigm shift.

    At the projected scale of Starship mass to orbit and pricing you'd find it faster and cheaper to just send up the components and materials for whatever size station you are willing to pay for.

  14. Except for the foam insulation on those orbiting external tanks eventually doing a good imitation of popcorn and creating LEO debris clouds. 

    Yes, it was a solvable issue but that would have been more work that NASA wasn't going to pay for.

  15. Considering what they have accomplished in the past year, I have confidence that the SpaceX team can be launching to orbit and landing both parts of Starship – upper stage and booster. If they can add refueling in orbit to this there should be no problem getting to Mars – where if they can land on Earth they can land on Mars.

    I'm curious to know what cargo they would be carrying. I have yet to see any news about Musk doing anything in they way of building any actual colony support gear – hardware to extract return fuel (O2 and Methane)? What other gear would they need to support a manned mission? An advance cargo mission would be super beneficial, but has Musk released any details on his plans beyond Starship development?

  16. If Musk were not doing self driving cars, I would have to worry about his lunar landing stuff. Bezos uses his in New Shepard and it is up and running. Supposed to be good for finding a spot independently. Will get much easier after pads built. Just don't do a Delta Clipper.

  17. I bet SpaceX could churn out tanker Starships pretty fast, if they didn't have to build them to be able to return to Earth, just make orbit with the maximum fuel payload. No actuated flaps. No landing legs. No fancy plumbing and anti-slosh baffles to allow a successful belly flop. No reentry shielding.

    Just a couple of big tanks with a set of engines mounted on the bottom using some sort of quick disconnect.

    Of course, given SpaceX's operational philosophy, they probably view the return flights of the tankers as valuable learning opportunities.

  18. I had the strange feeling that the Shuttle was *delayed* until Skylab was gone, so they would not have something to compete with ISS. That may have been the correct choice, but having the tanks for other things would be nice now, esp as we start micr0g mfg experiments. Now, those are popular! $$$$ too.

  19. The scheme I've seen has the actual sleeping area in a cylindrical space just above the fuel tanks, surrounded by cargo for radiation shielding. I've suggested using capsule hotel rooms, like in a Japanese airport; Why reinvent the wheel?

    That would apparently provide enough shielding for emergencies, with the regular hull being enough during normal "weather".

    None of this is enough shielding for cosmic radiation, of course, so you wouldn't want to make too many trips back and forth, you'd be losing brain cells at a terrifying rate, a half dozen trips would equal premature dementia. Even one round trip to Mars and back would probably mean retiring from the astronaut program due to lifetime exposure, barring cosmic ray shielding.

    I do like the idea of using a cycler, though, it would be significantly superior.

  20. IIRC, NASA was deliberately wasting payload capacity to dump the external tanks, because they didn't want to be forced to go down the Skylab route again, they preferred expensive bespoke hardware to repurposed tanks.

  21. You probably would not grow crops in Martian soil, except experimentally. Hydroponics would be easier to pull off.

    The Martian radiation levels aren't totally awful, though they're certainly higher than Earth.

    As I envision it, you'd use huge balloons with internal stays, like a giant air mattress. The mass to volume ratio on such would be quite good, and air pressure would provide the needed rigidity. All you'd have to do is sweep an area clear of sharp rocks, and possibly dig it down a little. Inflate the habitat on that area. Then cover it with a couple layers of sand bags, also remarkably light given most of the mass is Mars dirt. Deployment could be automatic.

    The habitat would be 2 stories; The upper layer would be hydroponics, with a mesh floor, and red/blue LED lighting built into the ceiling. The underside of the mesh floor would have green LEDs to supplement the leaked light, so the bottom floor would have white illumination.

    About 20 square meters of hydroponics is enough to feed and provide air recycling for an adult, so the habitat doesn't have to be outrageously large this way, just comfortably spacious. All the fittings could be installed manually after the balloon inflated.

    This sort of habitat could also be manufactured from Martian materials; Spectra is an excellent material for this application, and can be manufactured from CO2 and H20 tapping part of the output of the fuel factory as feedstock. So the solution is scalable.

  22. A swing out hoist over the airlock is the classic solution, you can see it in some of Chesley Bonestell's paintings of Von Braun's moon rocket plans.

    As well, it has been proposed to put cargo lockers in the base of the Starship, as the engines don't occupy all that space.

    As far as landing on uneven ground, I assume the Mars Starship will have upgraded landing legs. And mapping satellite can give you the ground profile with incredible precision, so finding a level rock outcropping won't be all that difficult.

  23. "NASA will not be paying SpaceX for a human mission to Mars, which means no humans to Mars." They will be paying them or they will not, which in either case may end up in humans eventually getting there on a SpaceX vessel or not. We don't know. NASA isn't the only way of financing, I never thought that there could be essentially private "charity"/advertising missions to the Moon or even Venus. And I never thought anyone in Europe could be seriously contemplating reusability or another launcher outside of the Airbus/Arianespace complex.

  24. Proof reading isn't really necessary, it is a tool to an end that in this case just isn't there, I'm fine with just the news he takes care to collect for us.

  25. Sea water isn't very engine friendly, remember how it was with the F1 launches from Kwajalein, they had to deal just with aerosols. But Brett Bellmore's idea is interesting.

  26. There are no landing pads on Mars.
    Anyone seen any discussion on how they plan to land a Starship on soft, uneven ground?
    Also, if they land vertically, there is a need for some sort of crane logistics mechanisms to unload cargo.

  27. Starlink sats will need some modifications – larger solar panels, maybe boosted transmitters and receivers to allow for a higher orbit giving more coverage with a few satellite and keeping them in orbit longer. But Starlink seems to be able to churn out new and improved versions pretty quickly.

    Main issue I could see would be that they won't want to slow Earth's constellation deployment in the slightest. OTOH, their satellite design should be getting pretty stable by now, beyond testing and revision of the inter-sat laser link hardware. They might have some engineering resources available to look at lunar and Mars satellite design mods.

  28. Maybe we have to lose the 70 engines in the Starship Tankers or we recover them later or do something else with the shells like Brett discussed

  29. It would have to be a very, very soft ocean landing. Just trying to brainstorm ways to make it easier to do the needed refueling for the Mars mission in just one year.

  30. If Musk is serious about Mars colonies – and with no ability to make a return due to Mars-Earth planetary alignment only roughly every 2 years he needs to be serious – then SpaceX should focus on autonomously setting up the following:
    – Greenhouse to grow crops, complete with oxygenation, unpoisoning martian soil (more like dirt)
    – Refueling station to get the necessary chemicals from Mars, since they are impossible to lug from Earth
    – Living quarters apart from the spaceship, which is not designed for living in long-term (>1 year), including radiation shielding. Optional underground bunker.
    This will clearly take years, not months. Musk is about 50 now. He needs to plan for next generation Mars colony succession unless he doesn't plan on "dying on Mars, just not on impact" anymore.
    Or…just set up a base on 4 day/always-there Earth Moon, which requires far less fuel to land and leave again. China's going to beat us there by the 2030s if the U.S. doesn't get more serious about lunar colonies. What happened to the "space race?"

  31. This is the same story as the ET. Needed extra fuel to dump it rather than keep in orbit. Details add up to big deals. The booster is the big deal here. Pretend you are on Mars, cut those orbiting puppies up and live in them.

  32. MREs would be useful payload, but they probably don't need 100T of them – assuming they send 100T payload so any landing attempt is a realistic test.

    Maybe some metal, particularly metals not common in Starship scrap/salvage. Those would survive anything short of burning up on entry.

    100T of calcium could make about 400 tons of cement with ISRU CO2, and mixing that with ISRU water plus ~1200 tons of aggregate would get you ~1600 tons of concrete – about 665cu-m. Enough to make a 40m diameter circular landing pad half a meter thick – probably adequate if based on solid rock levelled with packed gravel and sand?

  33. Before they can really do this mission, they need to establish long term storage of cryogenics in zero g. With the oxygen and methane requiring substantially different temperatures, and other systems needing to remain warm, it's NOT as simple as just hiding behind a sun shield. (Though that's the biggest part.) They're actually going to have to do it, and see what works, and what doesn't.

    I've suggested that they should put two Starships equipped as though they were going to Mars, in orbit. Fully refuel one, partially refuel the other, and connect them with a tether. Spin them up, and you can get simulated Mars gravity on the mostly empty one, and Lunar gravity on the full one.

    This gets you a partial gravity lab to study the health effects, and a chance to test all the Mars trip systems. THAT is the mission I'd plan for 2022. Though if you could do that, and try landing a cargo Starship full of MRE's, that wouldn't be a bad idea.

  34. Leaving the fuel tank Starships in orbit is actually a pretty good idea. You can omit a lot of features that are only needed for reentry and landing; Legs, wings, heat shielding. They'd just be bare tanks with engines, and not even fancy tankage designed to allow the engines to relight after a belly flop. So the fuel delivered to orbit would increase substantially.

    The only part that needs to be returned to earth is the engines, the rest of the Starship immediately becomes valuable material for building a large space station. The engines you could dismount and bring back on occasional dedicated missions, as cargo.

    It would actually make sense to run the fuel ferries this way, rather than reusing them. Mass in orbit is pretty valuable.

  35. Mars landing is tough. Mars orbit, not so much – mainly a matter of getting enough fuel there to get them back. Might have to send a tanker along. It'd be valuable to NASA, and valuable to Musk in demonstrating to NASA that that portion of Mars missions can be done safely. Most of NASA's contribution – astronauts and environmental systems and such – they'll be doing for lunar missions anyhow.

  36. That was my thought: It's a very tight schedule for a landing, but they could make orbit, and dump a huge number of satellites around Mars, establish a Martian GPS and Starlink constellation. That would be very handy for the landing in 2024.

    The difficulty would be having the satellites ready.

    The alternative is going straight to the landing, with a Starship full of MRE's, packaged so that even if it falls over on landing the payload will be useable. I wonder how hard it would be to come up with ARB's? (Air, Ready to Breath)

    If they're planning on landing or orbiting anything remotely sophisticated, they'll have to let the contracts very soon. One advantage there is that most of the difficulty in designing Mars rovers is having to do so within tight weight constraints. Tell somebody their Mars rover can weight 10T, and it suddenly becomes a LOT easier.

  37. It's not very costly tossing some mass in the general direction of Mars, but no humans will be venturing there for the foreseeable future. NASA will not be paying SpaceX for a human mission to Mars, which means no humans to Mars. Those that thought launch costs was the barrier to human Mars missions are fantasists, we would still be largely where we are even if launch costs were always free.

  38. Starship missions of exploration are one thing, but once there are regular flights cycling stations with plenty of radiation shielding, emergency supplies, and the ability to evacuate in case of emergency are called for.
    If enough cyclers are built, there will always be emergency supplies, relief personnel, and the ability to evacuate injured, or sick colonists safely.
    The idea of a solar flare occurring while in transit scares the hell out of me. I'd rather take longer to get there, but have better shielding, and room.

  39. Emergency supplies, food, O2, suit patches, repair tools, and materials would make a good cargo. If the site of the first landing is known, try a landing nearby, if not, leave in orbit, or try to land on Deimos, or Phobos. A base on one of the two moons is sort of a no brainer anyway.

  40. It depends, do they want to land the Starships on Mars or not?

    They could try to reach Mars orbit instead with low energy Hohmann transfers, allowing comfy orbits without any crew, with little or no aerobraking. They could even bring something useful, like a Mars starlink and supplies for in-space consumption.

    Mastering the (re)entry and landing from space can take a bit more time, as did getting the hang of the landing during the hops (still not fully done).

    But if they manage one or two propulsive landings from orbit on Earth before the end of 2022, they could dare to do the same on Mars , and probably fail to do so, but the gesture is what matters.

  41. Raw material would be fine: water, oxygen, MRE, solar panels, plastics, foam, cables, batteries.

  42. If orbital launch and recover works and the refueling works then no reason why then can't send a Starship or two to Mars at the end of 2022.

  43. And that's not the only similar mistake in the article. I don't know whether Brian is in so much of a hurry that he doesn't proofread, or is just a very poor proofreader, but he regularly makes similar mistakes. You sort of just have to correct the articles yourself as you read them.

  44. Makes sense as a SpaceX aspiration to launch Starship to Mars in September 2022. They have to master orbital propellant transfer anyway as part of the Artemis lander NASA contract and they might be able to do a ride share between extra propellant and Starlink Sats. 60 Starlink Sats are only 20% or so of payload capacity so they could both launch as many Starlink Sats as an F9 and carry substantial surplus propellant to transfer.

    This would combine very productive missions with refining Starship and an inspirational pretty near term objective.

    Opens up the question of what they’d put on it and where it would land.

  45. "The fuel tank Starships could be left in orbit without landing them or could be recovered from controlled ocean drops and then dried out."
    Are you being serious, Brian?
    We've seen Falcon 9 first stages land in the ocean and then promptly break apart.

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