SpaceX CEO Elon Musk made waves a while back with an ambitious plan to begin ferrying people to Mars within the next several years. He was understandably vague on details, but now he’s got a bit more to share. It still sounds like we’re a long way from colonizing Mars, even by Musk’s standards, but we have a better idea of what SpaceX needs to supply and sustain a human population on the red planet.
Musk kicked off another of his impromptu Twitter Q-and-A sessions on Thursday evening by tweeting a new photo of the Starship SN1 prototype under construction at the company’s Boca Chica manufacturing and testing facility. Naturally, everyone wanted to know when they could get off this rock. Musk didn’t offer any specifics on that count, but he did have some new information about where SpaceX intends to go with the Mars initiative.
The goal, according to the tweets is to have a fleet of about 1,000 Starships in service. Musk believes the company will eventually be able to produce 100 vessels per year, and each hull should be good for 20-30 years of service. With that many ships, SpaceX would be able to transport up to 100 megatons of cargo to Mars every year. That’s the equivalent of 100,000 passengers.
SpaceX wouldn’t make runs to Mars every year, though. The Starship fleet would leave all at once every 26 months when Earth and Mars are in the right orbits to shorten the trip. It should only take about 30 days per trip at that time. While the vessels will need to refuel in Earth orbit before leaving for Mars, they will be able to pick up all the fuel they need on Mars for the return trip. That’s thanks to Mars’ comparatively thin atmosphere.
Starship orbital vehicle SN1, liquid oxygen header tank & nosecone pic.twitter.com/IaSEdIyZgP
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 16, 2020
Musk says that SpaceX hopes to have 1 million people on Mars by 2050, and he hopes to make it cheap enough that anyone can go. Musk has floated $500,000 per seat with a guaranteed return ticket if you change your mind, but this is the first time he suggested the idea of loans who couldn’t afford it. Don’t worry, though. He also says there will be plenty of jobs on Mars. Although, it’s not clear what would happen if you didn’t repay the loan. Do they waste fuel hauling you back to Earth?
Before any of these problems can be solved, SpaceX has to finish building the Starship. The new prototype under construction will be ready for orbital testing late this year. After that, SpaceX will begin building versions suitable for deep space travel, including a vessel that will carry a Japanese billionaire around the moon and back.
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