At the 2017 International Astronautical Congress in Australia, SpaceX founder Elon Musk laid out some exciting changes to his vision for helping make humans an interplanetary species, with a presence on Mars and potentially beyond.
“The future is vastly more exciting and interesting if we’re a space-faring species compared to if we’re not,” Musk said as he took the stage. “It is about believing in the future and believing the future will be better than the past.”
This strategy will be quite expensive, because it was a criticism of what was not addressed in his final talk at IAC year and Musk led with that. Musk said that he believes SpaceX has figured out how to pay for it and a lot of his discussion was given over to what SpaceX plans to do to achieve cost efficiencies, and potentially open up new revenue.
One part of the plan is to essentially render all SpaceX vehicles redundant by focusing in the BFR rocket. This will be scaled down from its first huge concept design, and will instead be one booster and ship that replaces Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and Dragon, with capabilities both in terms of servicing the International Space Station and SpaceX’s present Earth orbital satellite clients, as well as reaching Mars and helping establish a moon base.
Musk also detailed progress on some of the more tangible aspects of the plan it showed off last year.It showed a pressure test of its large cryo gas tank, which you can see above. The explosion came just after the tank suffered beyond the limits of the anticipated field conditions of SpaceX.
SpaceX also showed off the corporation’s rocket engine tests, noting that the continuous burn test for the Raptor engine is 100 seconds, but that 40 seconds will be average for Mars landing requirements.
Regarding the propulsive landing required for landing on Mars, Musk noted that SpaceX was perfecting that with Falcon 9 — “That’s what they’ve been performing across 16 successful landings in a row,” he said. . “And that is really with no redundancy. The Falcon 9 lands on one motor, he added and if you have high reliability with single engine, then you may land with both engines (that the BFR will have), and you probably can achieve landing reliability on par with most commercial airlines.
Musk mentioned that the precision for landing is now good enough that the company probably doesn’t even need legs for the next version — it could land with sufficient precision the rocket will land back on its launching mounts.
Another key ingredient will ramp up the speed of releases, since a frequency will be required for Mars. SpaceX is currently targeting 20 starts by the end of the year, 30. “If SpaceX does do something like 30 launches next year, it’ll be approximately half of all orbital launches that occurs next year on Earth,” Musk said.
Will be automated rendezvous and docking into a space station. Dragon 2, which launches next year, will realize that with the International Space Station, Musk said. The present version of Dragon requires it to be finally affixed by the Canadarm .
Musk reiterated that Falcon Heavy should start by the end of the year. He qualified that it sounds like it ought to be easy, as it is effectively a tripling of Falcon 9, he said, but “it is actually not.” But the boosters have been examined and are en route to Cape Canaveral, and SpaceX is now beginning evolution of BFR.
BFR in configuration that is totally reusable should have a payload capacity of 150 tons to low Earth orbit, Musk shown — that compares to 30 tons for Falcon Heavy in only reusable configuration. This makes a huge difference in terms of price, since with reusability you’re still throwing away a lot of Falcon Heavy to get that load up to distance.
With BFR, SpaceX is combining Dragon in one craft and the upper stage of the rocket. High reuse will permit the expense of launches to fall below that of the most cost-efficient current launches, while keeping prices lower than every launch. Refueling in orbit will further assist with this cost efficiency, and the docking component is a part of making that happen in a way that maximizes benefits.
The plan is still to construct ahead and have a stock of Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy vehicles, despite the future concentrate on BFR, so that SpaceX’s customers can be reassured they can use this. Meanwhile, once that stockpile is achieved, all attention will be turned by SpaceX to building enemy, which it will pay for by servicing the ISS and launching satellites.
The BFR, support the space station, select up space debris, and once in service, may also deploy satellites, but SpaceX wants to ensure that customers aren’t made nervous by the new platform before extensive testing.
BFR can even do lunar surface missions without having to generate fuel locally on the moon, which will permit the creation of “moon base alpha or some type of lunar base.”
“It is 2017, I mean we need to have a lunar base by today — what the hell’s going on,” Musk said on point. What is currently going on, indeed.
The Mars goal would be to have landed at least 2 cargo missions on Mars by 2022. The company will start building the first BFR ship in the next 6 to 9 months, and Musk “feels confident” they could do the first assignment in about five decades. The objective of the missions will be to confirm water resources and identify hazards, and to put in place energy, mining and life support systems to support future missions.
Further missions following in 2024 would fly four boats, including two cargo ships and two boats that are crewed. In this stage, the goal will be to build a propellant plant as well as take the people to mars, and also to develop a foundation in preparation for an expanded surface presence. And then to build that into a town, blossoming across Mars’ dirt.
Supporting the creation of a permanenthuman presence on Mars. https://t.co/kCtBLPbSg8 pic.twitter.com/ra6hKsrOcG
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 29, 2017
It is hard to deny the allure of this plan, fantastic as it could be, although price planning and the numbers here still require a long hard look. Additionally, Elon saved maybe the best, and many down-to-earth (and yet maybe also most lofty) goal for last — commercial spaceflight that could get passengers anywhere on Earth in under one hour.