Since founding SpaceX, Elon Musk has not made a secret of his desire to make the formation of a space colony affordable. His development of reusable rockets and spacecraft represents an end game that will make space exploration more palatable to taxpayers and more affordable to people who are interested in paying for a trip into deep space. The fact that SpaceX recently reused a Dragon 2 capsule for an International Space Station resupply mission only means that Musk is quite serious in his intent to deliver on his promises.
Now Elon Musk has published a paper complete with charts and graphs that provide more details of his long-term plan to create a space colony for the low cost of $200,000 a person. This paper can be downloaded for free until July 5.
This paper addresses many of the questions that interested parties have had about SpaceX’s eventual goals, including the matter of what types of hardware would be used for such a project. SpaceX intends to develop booster engines that are three times as powerful as the “Merlin” engines that are currently being used to power the Falcon 9. The new, more powerful engines will be referred to as “Raptors” and will be the engines for the most powerful rockets ever produced.
Each reusable rocket will make use of 42 Raptors to gain the ability to launch 300 metric tons into Earth orbit. An expendable single-use version will be capable of launching 550 metric tons into orbit. By way of comparison, the Saturn V rocket is the most powerful rocket that has actually launched crews into outer space and was capable of launching 135 metric tons. Because reusable rockets have practically become a major part of the SpaceX brand, each reusable rocket will be capable of launching a spacecraft and making a pinpoint landing 20 minutes later.
Elon Musk says that his goal is to launch more than 1,000 spacecraft that are capable of traveling to Mars, carrying at least 100 future colonists each. Eventually, he plans to have a colony of up to one million Martians within 50 to 100 years. He calls the combination of Raptor engines, reusable rockets and future Martian colonial spacecraft the Interplanetary Transport System.
Why Mars, Though?
Readers may remember from elementary school astronomy class that are four terrestrial, or “rocky,” planets in the solar system. Mercury is too close to the sun and too airless to be habitable. Venus has a runaway greenhouse effect and is so acidic that it is capable of basically digesting any probe that has ever made it to the surface. Earth is, obviously, friendly toward life but is already occupied.
Mars is a favorite candidate for colonization because it’s the rocky planet that is most like Earth. Mars barely gets warm enough for water to thaw during its version of a summer day, has a thin atmosphere, and the regolith has a lot of naturally occurring bleach in it. However, it also has a lot of frozen water in the regolith, the chemical elements that can produce energy, plastics, and rocket fuel are present in generous quantities, and crops can be grown in a greenhouse using basic aquaponics or Martian soil that has been properly processed and cleansed of toxins.
Most importantly, Elon Musk believes that expanding to other planets will be critical for human survival. “I think there are really two fundamental paths. History is going to bifurcate along two directions. One path is we stay on Earth forever, and then there will be some eventual extinction event. I do not have an immediate doomsday prophecy, but eventually, history suggests, there will be some doomsday event. The alternative is to become a space-bearing civilization and a multi-planetary species,” he said in the recently published paper.
Don’t forget to download the paper before July 5 so that you can check out the details of Elon Musk’s plan for Mars.