We always knew Elon Musk was an ambitious guy, but now he’s taken it up a notch.
At the International Aeronautical Conference in Adelaide, Australia on Friday, Musk presented his goal to get to Mars by 2022 — before preparing for a human crew in 2024.
“That’s not a typo. But it is aspirational,” Musk said, upon revealing his plans.
How Musk plans to do it is by not only via reusable rockets, which is the core of SpaceX’s model, but also focusing the company’s efforts on developing an even bigger, fully reusable vehicle.
That vehicle has been codenamed “BFR” (for Big F*cking Rocket) and is slated to replace the Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and Dragon.
“If we can do that, then all our resources for Falcon 9, Heavy and Dragon can be applied to this system,” Musk said.
BFR will be 106 metres (347 feet) tall, 9 metres (29 feet) wide, and have a 150 ton payload — five times the amount of the Falcon Heavy, the company’s current largest vehicle.
Construction of the BFR will start next year, and Musk said it’ll be funded by revenue from launching satellites and servicing the International Space Station.
Getting to Mars
For Mars transit, there will be 40 cabins in the BFR. Musk said these cabins will ideally fit two or three people, which means there will be roughly 100 people per flight. Reusable tankers will be sent to orbit to refill BFR, enough to get it to Mars.
In 2022, Musk hopes to land at least two cargo ships on Mars, which will find the best source of water. This is in order to build a propellant production plant on the red planet, which will be constructed when two crewed ships arrive in 2024.
A base will be built, and “over time, terraforming Mars and making it a nice place to be,” he said.
To the moon and back
SpaceX’s “BFR” will also go to the moon and back, and unlike Mars, will need no propellant production on the lunar surface.
That means “BFR” can do return lunar trips, with only a refuel midway there. It’ll allow the creation of Moon Base Alpha, or some sort of lunar base. “It’s 2017, we should have a lunar base by now,” Musk said.
Musk also shared computer generated imagery of what Moon Base Alpha would look like via Instagram.
Using the BFR for travel on this planet
Musk’s “one more thing” moment was the prospect of using the BFR for international travel here on Earth, cutting long-haul flight times to around half an hour for most destinations, and anywhere in under an hour.
“The great thing about going to space is there’s no friction … it’ll be smooth as silk. No turbulence, no nothing,” he said.
“If we’re thinking of building this thing to go to the Moon and Mars, why not to other places on Earth as well.”
Yes, there’s a suitably inspiring trailer to go with the vision.
Of course, SpaceX isn’t first with this vision of point-to-point travel via low orbit. Virgin Galactic brought this idea to mind way back.
But the key advantage Musk is dangling appears to be the cost, which “should be about the same as full fare economy in an aircraft” per seat, according to his Instagram post.
Musk also admitted in his keynote that the Falcon Heavy, which is launching at the end of the year, was “a more complex project than we thought.” Given this, and that SpaceX has yet to send any human to space, whether BFR will live to Musk’s big aspirations is anyone’s guess.