In the past few days and weeks, a fair amount of literature has been released by Elon Musk about SpaceX’s plan to get to Mars. And it’s a pretty comprehensive plan, at that. Since NASA released their plan for Mars a few months ago, which was interesting, but still only aimed at getting to Mars in the 2030’s, I’ve been waiting with baited breath to see if SpaceX could do any better.
Happily, I’ve not been disappointed!
SpaceX’s plan focuses very much on the Journey to Mars, and the return trip. They’ve gone into a lot of details about the technical specification of the Launch & Delivery vehicles, and some of the unique challenges they’ve encountered. So far, it looks as if they have answers for everything, though nothing has been fully tested yet. The falcon Heavy is obviously one of the main stages of the development of this plan, though the technology for landing boosters is also intrinsic to their plan.
Basically, here’s how it would work:
The biggest Booster the world has ever seen would take off from Launch Pad 39A (Saturn V’s old launch pad) with a Spaceship as it’s payload. This Spaceship would carry up to 100 people into Low Earth Orbit. Once it’s initial cargo has been delivered, the Booster would return to Earth and land at the same pad. There, it gets refuelled, and reloaded with a Fuel Tank as it’s main cargo. Back up it goes.
Once it’s reached LEO again, the fuel tank cargo pod docks with the Spaceship, and fills it up with the fuel required for the trip. Both the empty fuel tank and the booster return to Earth once again.
Now full of Humans and Fuel, the Spaceship heads off, deploying Solar Panels to provide extra energy for the Spaceship. Musk envisions that the trip could be done in 80 days initially, but over time might be cut down to a mere 30 days each way.
Once the Spaceship arrives at Mars, it’ll use the same Booster technology to land on the Red Planet, and release it’s crew. As the gravity well on Mars is so much shallower than Earth’s, lifting the Spaceship off the planet for the return journey would require much less energy and fuel. This fuel could easily be produced on Mars, as it has all the elements required to produce methane & oxygen. The Spaceship then returns to Earth to be re-used.
Mars and Earth are at their nearest points every 26 months, so that would be the likely timescale for each individual Cargo load being sent to our Sister Planet.
Elon Musk is set to make some announcements with regards to the Mars Plan at the International Astronautical Congress, which will hopefully shed more light on this already quite comprehensive plan. You can see more details of the Mars Plan here, and watch a very informative Simulation of the Journey as well.
We’ll keep you updated with any more news as it comes out!