SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk is well-known for his desire to colonize Mars, and every so often, he makes a random comment that gets the tech blog-o-sphere buzzing. This time, instead of just a comment or two about going to the Red Planet, Musk has published an entire article on the topic in the journal New Space.
Here’s how Elon Musk plans to colonize Mars
Musk’s paper, titled “Making Life Multi-Planetary,” was published online earlier this month. He set out his plan for what he calls “BFR,” which is a type of rocket he wants to develop at SpaceX. Musk plans to use the rocket to shuttle about 100 people into space to colonize Mars.
In his paper, the SpaceX chief set out to explain how he intends to pay for the rocket. The paper covers the presentation he gave at the International Astronautical Congress in September, and it’s essentially an update to the presentation he gave at the conference in 2017.
Paying for the rocket to colonize Mars… through cannibalization
Elon Musk explained in his paper that he has updated the design of his BFR rocket to make it smaller than his original design—and also potentially less expensive. His new design incorporates a ship and rocket booster into one system that can replace SpaceX’s current Falcon Heavy and Falcon 9 rockets and Dragon spacecraft. He also explained that his new design applies all the resources already being used for the Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and Dragon. Musk also described the Raptor engine, which they’ve been testing for a while already.
Normally, when a tech firm talks about its products being cannibalized, it’s certainly not a good thing, but Elon Musk explained how it may be possible to pay for the rocket to colonize Mars by cannibalizing SpaceX’s current technology. He said that his goal is to have “a stock of Falcon 9 and Dragon vehicles” available for customers who may want to continue using them despite the development of the newer BFR system. Musk believes they can build BFR through the revenues collected for their satellite launches and service to the International Space Station.
Getting to Mars
In order to actually get to the Red Planet, Elon Musk said they would send the BFR into Earth’s orbit, refill its tanks, and then send it to Mars, where it will land. He noted that an essential part of trying to colonize Mars is the ability to produce propellants locally. Because the planet’s atmosphere has carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and plenty of water, he suggests using the Sabatier Process to manufacture methane and molecular oxygen. After the propellant is manufactured, the rocket can then be refilled for a return trip for Earth. He explained that no booster is needed to launch from Mars because it has less gravity.
Musk said they’re currently aiming to launch SpaceX’s first cargo missions to Mars in 2022, although he also called that an “aspirational” target, which means it seems rather unlikely that they will make it on time. It’s interesting that he set a timeline of 2022 in his paper, given that other commentary he’s given this year suggests they could launch a mission to Mars in 2019.
SpaceX is apparently already working on building the BFR, as he said they’ve ordered the tooling needed for the main tanks and are building the facility now. By 2024, Musk wants to fly two cargo missions and two crew missions to locate water and then build the plant to manufacture the propellant needed for a return trip to Earth.
Elon Musk even described his plan for building a base to use when they colonize Mars, starting with a single ship and then adding multiple ships before starting to build out the city, “over time terraforming Mars and making it really a nice place to be.”