Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) founder Elon Musk is aiming for a $200,000 per person price tag for getting to Mars, he said Tuesday during an unveiling of his plan to establish a colony on the “red planet.”
During a presentation at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) convention in Mexico, Musk estimated it would cost roughly $10 billion per person to get to Mars using traditional propulsion methods. Musk justified his estimate by using Apollo cost estimates, saying it cost the United States between $100 billion and $200 billion, in current year dollars, to send 12 people to the surface of the Moon.
Musk said he used the $200,000 price tag as it is roughly the median cost of a home in the U.S. If he can reach that mark, Musk believes the probability of establishing a self-sustaining civilization will be “very high.”
“(It) sounds like it is virtually impossible, but I think there are ways to do it,” Musk said.
Musk said there are four key points for his plan: refuel in orbit, use correct propellant, achieve full rocket reusability and, finally, propellant production on Mars. Musk said full rocket reusability would be the most difficult of the four. Deep crymethlox, which commercial space advocate and industry consultant Rand Simberg believes is super chilled methane and liquid oxygen, is the fuel of choice for Musk.
Musk’s rocket for getting to Mars would be many, many times larger than the Saturn V and would be made of carbon fiber. He eventually wants to be able to fly 200 people per trip to Mars and hopes to reduce the travel time to 80 days and, if possible, 30 days.
Musk expects to fund his Mars ambitions via launching satellites and servicing the International Space Station (ISS), which will end its engineering life in 2024. He also expects a private-public partnership to help provide funding.
Musk wants to start sending things to Mars on a steady cadence, starting with the Dragon capsule in two years. He also wants to have initial launches from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Musk envisions the rocket used to get to Mars being built in multiple Gulf Coast states before final assembly is performed at launch sites. SpaceX is also building a launch site in south Texas.
Simberg wondered how Musk is proposing to get his faster trips to Mars as it would take roughly a few months to get to Mars today. Simberg believes if Musk wants to get to Mars in three months, he’ll likely use a lot more propellant.
If Musk wants to get to Mars in 30 days, Simberg said he’ll probably have to look at a new propulsion system like nuclear fusion. But in the end, Simberg said, reducing time to get to Mars will all depend on how much Musk wants to spend. Though SLS ends its engineering life in 2024, Simberg thinks Musk assumes he’ll have new markets because of potential commercial space stations that might pop up in low earth orbit (LEO).
Secure World Foundation Technical Advisor Brian Weeden said Tuesday that Musk laid out what was efffectively a first order engineering analysis of how to transport large numbers of peopl eto Mars. What’s missing, Weeden said, are all the other components: how they will stay alive during the flight and on Mars and what they will do there.
Both Weeden and Simberg said Musk’s Mars plan is much more solid than anything NASA has presented for how the agency plans to get to Mars. Weeden said NASA announced its Journey to Mars with great fanfare, but so far has not followed with a comprehensive plan of how the agency will make it happen.
Charles Miller, president of NexGen Space LLC, called Musk’s proposed design of combining fully-reusable launch vehicles and orbital propellant storage completely logical. Miller said just like how everyone has copied Apple‘s [APPL] iPhone, everyone in the future will copy Musk’s reusable launch vehicle and propellant transfer strategy.