Space X Mars plans become feasible: Elon Musk’s multi-planet species goal may yet launch

“Fundamentally, the future is vastly more exciting and interesting if we’re a space-faring civilization, and a multi-planet species, than if we’re not. You want to be inspired by things. You want to wake up in the morning and think: the future’s going to be great!… It’s about believing in the future, and believing the futue will be better than the past!”

This was an eloquent Elon Musk, this week at the International Astronautical Congress IAC). [Full video of his talk below.]

 

Elon Musk delivering the “state of the Mars mission” at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia this week.

 

In design-engineering (and science) it begins with a goal. Elon Musk has never varied from his long-term goal to be the driving force beyond the eventual colonization of Mars. Brushed off as a visionary dreamer in the early years, the plans have evolved — as they always do when design and engineering set themselves to a hard goal — into something tangible and achievable. The engineering milestones along the way tell the story of a company and visionary driven by a feasible goal:

  • Most powerful thrust-to-weight ratio engine ever developed (tested)
  • New stronger, lighter polycarbonate materials
  • Automated docking mechanisms for refuelling in orbit (Canada Space Arm featured)
  • Propulsive landing becomes reliable: over 16 successful tests

 

The repeated successful propulsive landing has been nearly perfected by SpaceX.

 

Will we see a colony on Mars?

Likely. No one expected Elon Musk to make the EV sexy and mainstream. He did. No one expected his company SpaceX could do what others — at the time — had not: re-usable and landable spacecraft. The nature of the visionary is having a lofty goal, then pursuing the goal with real science, design and engineering. Elon Musk is the master of this; even his critics would agree on this.

So, yes, we likely will see a colony on Mars in the semi-near future. That vision becomes credible when it’s expressed by someone with so many visionary accomplishments — someone like SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

Watch his 40-minute motivating talk and demonstration on September 28 at IAC in Australia (partial transcript below):

 

 

“I can’t think of anything more exciting”

“I can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars…” Elon Musk backed his inspiring vision with an updated plan for the Mars mission — or, more broadly — “becoming a multi-planet species.

He showed the up-dated “BFR” — the code name for the “workhorse” spacecraft that will be instrumental in achieving the goal.

 

With over 16 completed landing tests, SpaceX is rapidly moving along testing and development of key technologies required for successful colonization of Mars.

 

“I think we’ve figured out how to pay for it.”

“The most important thing I want to convey is that I that I think we’ve figured out how to pay for it!” Musk explained. “This is very important,” he added to laughter from the audience.

He backgrounded his remarks by explaining that in the previous year’s presentation ‘we were really searching for… how do we pay for this thing.”

 

A key to making the ambitious goal achievable is a lighter, more powerful spacecraft. The new engines have the highest propulsion-to-weight ever tested.

 

Making it work by making it smaller

The solution, according to Musk, is to use smaller ships. But more importantly, he wants to make their current vehicles redundant. “We want to have one ship that replaces Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, and Dragon. If we can do that, then all the resources that are used for Falcon 9, Heavy and Dragon can be applied to this system.”

The keys to making it work highlighted were:

  • spacecraft must be extremely light
  • requires an extremely efficient engine (named “Rapture engine”)

 

A new polycarbonate material was designed for extreme strength with lighter weight. The developed Cryo-Liquid Oxygen Tank can hold 1200 tons of liquid oxygen.

 

Engineering progress: highest thrust to weight engine

He then briefed on progress:

  • the “Deep Cryo Liquid Oxygen tank” — tested to 2.3 atmospheres, volume 1000m3 — tested until it “broke”
  • developed a much-stronger carbon-fibre material
  • the Rapture Engine: the highest thrust-to-weight engine of an engine of any kind ever made
  • determined 40 seconds is the length of the firing of the Rapture engine for a landing on Mars
  • testing of Rapture engine: over 1200 seconds of firing in 42 main engine tests up to 200 bar (200 atmospheres), with a goal of achieving 300 bar
  • perfecting propulsive landing: SpaceX already leads in this area, with 16 successful landings in a row (at this point the audience broke out in applause.)
  • refuelling in orbit is critical
  • automated rendezvous and docking: featuring Canada’s Space arm.

 

Automated docking is critical for in-orbit refuelling. Canada Space Arm featured in SpaceX report.

 

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