On June 2, 2016, Elon Musk gave a long interview in front of the 2016 Code Conference audience. This interview covered a wide array of attention catching subjects. However, a small part of what Mr Musk said hints at big things concerning the settlement of Mars. So, a blog is in order to go over what he said and comment a little on how this makes Mars settlement a little more concrete.
Elon Musk started talking about Mars about where he left off five weeks ago, on April 27, 2016, when he announced that SpaceX will be sending a (Red) Dragon 2 spacecraft to land on Mars in 2018 in a test run of the Dragon 2's capabilities. We at Two Planet Steel were excited by the April tweet announcement as an indication of Mr Musk's commitment to push for the early settlement of Mars. At the Code Conference, he expanded the 2018 commitment saying that SpaceX would be providing a cargo service to Mars for all of the next few Mars launch windows (which come around every ~26 months). This is not surprising news as space agencies such as NASA and the ESA (European Space Agency) are very likely to want to send projects to Mars in these launch windows and, so, they will be potential customers for this cargo service if SpaceX can offer a good combination of capability and price. For at least the next few years the Falcon Heavy/Dragon 2 combination of Earth launch vehicle and Mars landing vehicle will be what SpaceX has to offer Mars missions.
Elon Musk next said that he thought humans would land on Mars in 2025. This is much earlier than the current in-house NASA plan, which would get humans on Mars for a few days in 2043 with settlement 16+ years after that.
Musk also said that he plans to use a really big rocket, called the Mars Colonial Transporter, to get humans on Mars in 2025. Musk has been talking about the Mars Colonial Transporter (MCT) since 2012 . Although, his series of announcements about the MCT have become quite a tease and a lot is still unknown. Musk is likely to give more details about the MCT in September at the International Astronautical Congress when he will be giving a presentation called "Architecture for Mars Colonization." There will be high expectations from aerospace and Mars followers for Musk to deliver a well-grounded talk in September that should be developmentally, economically and politically plausible.
Previous snippets about the MCT suggest something so ambitious that it will be well beyond what SpaceX's Falcon Heavy/Dragon 2 combination in both capability and cost. Musk may run into severe difficulties if he pushes for an initial, very large MCT (that is launchable in 2024) because it would require gaining broad support and dollar backing from the US Congress and President and quite probably a re-allocation of budget funds away from the Space Launch System which Boeing, Aerojet Rocketdyne and others have large contracts to build.
How does this effect Two Planet Steel? The introduction of regular runs to Mars using the Falcon Heavy/Dragon 2 combo. is very encouraging. We will be unveiling a plan, called the "Steel Seeds Plan," for the very early establishment and growth of a settlement on Mars which (i) could be carried out with all transport to Mars done by the Falcon Heavy/Dragon 2 combo., (ii) could be implemented starting with the 2022 launch window, perhaps, even the 2020 launch window, and (iii) it will cost very little (there are quite some interesting things to write about this). In the Steel Seeds Plan the first human would land on Mars two launch cycles after a first fleet of Dragons lands robots and equipment on the Red Planet's surface. The transport of the first humans, or one human, to Mars could be done with a minimal inter-planetary vehicle consisting of a Dragon 2 coupled to one or two additional units capable of providing necessary inter-planetary, life-support systems and a little space to move around in. Such an inter-planetary vehicle would be boosted into low Earth orbit with a single Falcon Heavy and joined in low Earth orbit to a fueled, rocket booster capable of pushing it to Mars, wherein this booster and fuel could be put into low Earth orbit by a couple of Falcon Heavys.
Dr Rif Miles Olsen,
Founder, Two Planet Steel