Elon Musk will speak out about SpaceX and its plans to colonize Mars at an event in Guadalajara, Mexico today.
The event was supposed to be a positive presentation on a project of great personal importance for Musk. However the recent explosion of a SpaceX rocket adds a layer of complication and means that Musk needs to announce a new financial partner, or find one, writes Elizabeth Lopatto for The Verge.
Musk doesn’t have the money to get to Mars by himself. He needs outside support. If he doesn’t announce new financial support at today’s event, it means that the whole show is designed to attract new investors.
One likely partner is NASA, but the timing is difficult for Musk. Earlier this month one of his rockets exploded, damaging SpaceX’s reputation for low-cost reliability.
This is far from the ideal time to announce an ambitious project to take humans to Mars. No human beings have been launched into space on a SpaceX rocket, and there are no confirmed partnerships for a Mars mission.
It looks like Musk is looking for partners at the Mexico event. Without serious investment, SpaceX won’t be getting anywhere near Mars. NASA is SpaceX’s biggest customer, and has a massive budget compared to other space agencies.
Musk needs to show that he can deliver on the big promises that he makes. In 2011 he claimed the he could got humans into space within three years, but still hasn’t done so. It now looks as though SpaceX will make its first manned flight in 2018, and these delays have a huge effect on space programs.
The entrepreneur has form for failing to meet deadlines with SpaceX and with Tesla, which has seen frequent delays in producing and delivering its electric cars. The problem is that if he is to secure funding from the U.S. government or NASA, this lack of reliability will be an issue.
That doesn’t just apply to meeting deadlines, but the rockets too. The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket has suffered two major explosions with payloads attached. Rival rockets made by United Launch Alliance have a better safety record, with only one malfunction in more than four dozen flights.
ULA is slightly more expensive, but its CEO Tony Bruno has been pressing for officials to recognize that cost-cutting doesn’t always pay off in space. He wrote that the SpaceX explosions should “serve as a reminder of the complexity and hazards intrinsic to space launch services,” in a letter to the Pentagon. If reliability issues continue, SpaceX could come under increasing pressure in existing operations, let alone a new Mars colonization plan.
The cost of a Mars mission has been estimated at $1.5 trillion by Space News. Musk doesn’t have this kind of money, and one potential source of funding is working on a rival Mars project.
NASA plans to take humans to Mars by the 2030s, and is even building its own rocket in order to do so. However there is a chance that the project is cancelled in favor of focusing on the Moon.
If NASA keeps working on its own Mars plans, it would be bad news for Musk. However if it cancels its plans, SpaceX could benefit. It’s a big gamble from Musk, and he is trying to second guess NASA’s next moves in order to get his own Mars colonization plans off the ground.