LIVESTREAM: Elon Musk Says We Need These Four Things to Colonize Mars

Tuesday, 27 September 2016 - 3:39PM
Tuesday, 27 September 2016 - 3:39PM
LIVESTREAM: Elon Musk Says We Need These Four Things to Colonize Mars
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Today at 2:30 PM EST, Elon Musk jumped on a livestream and began to talk about his plan to "Make Humans a Multiplanetary Species." According to Musk, four things need to happen to enable the creation of a "self-sustaining civilization" on Mars. Each of these would represent a "magnitude of improvement" over the current model for human space travel, which, according to Musk, would make the price of a ticket to Mars about $10 billion dollars per person. Musk's goal is to make a ticket to Mars about the median cost of a house in the United States (~$200,000).

The four areas of improvement that need to happen to make colonizing Mars possible:

Full Reusability

This is the hardest one, according to Musk. To make Mars trips possible on a large enough scale to create a self-sustaining civilization, reusability is vital. Musk says that single-use equipment and spacecraft, like NASA's, are not feasible anymore. Instead, we need ships and parts (like the booster and tanker) that can used multiple times to ferry people and materials back and forth. The spaceship itself may have a lifespan of around 30 years. 

Refilling in Orbit

Earth and Mars "rendezvous" at approximately 26 months, meaning that the planets' orbits are closer. This offers the opportunity to make the trip between planets much shorter, and will probably become a key factor in creating a timetable for interplanetary flights. But rather than landing spacecraft on the ground after each flight, Musk proposed keeping spacecraft in orbit, where they would then (apparently) be able to deposit their payloads and passengers onto the planet without having to enter the atmosphere.

This is key because creating spacecraft with a three-stage vehicle, similar to contemporary rockets, generates an enormous amount of cost and an increase in size. Because they have to escape the atmosphere each time, huge amounts of extra fuel and potential performance issues are incurred. By keeping spacecraft solely in space and refilling their propellant while in orbit, these issues can be bypassed.

The Right Propellant

Musk outlined three types of fuel that were considered for primary use by the proposed interplanetary travel system: high-performance kerosene (used by jets), Hydrogen/Oxygen mixes (used by contemporary space-bound rockets) and a type of methane called "deep cryo methalox."

Using a grid to compare and contrast the cost of the propulsions, their reusability, the size of the vehicle they can propel, and their potentials for production on Mars, Musk showed that kerosene and hydrogen/oxygen mixtures were either too costly or too difficult to manufacture in general, and that the last fuel type, the methalox, would prove to be the most practical option.

Propellant Production on Mars

Musk also explained how methalox could be produced on Mars, using the planet's naturally occurring Co2 and water. This is probably one of the most revolutionary parts of his proposal, and forms the basis for a system of two-way travel between Mars and Earth. Rather than turning Mars into a "graveyard" of one-way spaceships and essentially stranding new colonists on the Red Planet with no way to get home, producing propellant right on Mars would enable Earth-bound ships to make the trip back.

As mentioned before, Elon Musk's rocket design is dependent on two pieces of tech: the Raptor Engine (which Musk claims has the highest thrust-to-weight ratio ever created) and the Falcon Heavy Rocket. Musk has posted the designs of both of these.

We're following the livestream now—you can watch too here: