Elon Musk has said he is ‘highly confident’ SpaceX can launch a manned mission to Mars in 2024.
The private space company has recently celebrated delivering astronauts to the ISS for the first time as part of a taxi service for Nasa. But the ultimate aim of SpaceX has always been to take humans to Mars.
Musk made the statement during an interview with Mathias Döpfner, CEO of the German media company Axel Springer SE.
The billionaire was speaking at Axel Springer’s Berlin headquarters after Musk had been presented with this year’s Axel Springer Award.
‘And then we want to try to send an uncrewed vehicle there in two years,’ Musk explained.
The 2022 target for a first mission to Mars is important because of orbital dynamics between the two planets. Mars and Earth line up favourably every 26 months, which is the target window for any kind of space mission there.
Musk then said he was ‘highly confident’ SpaceX could launch a crewed mission to the Red Planet in 2026. However, that could come even earlier in 2024 ‘if we get lucky’.
SpaceX is counting on its 165-foot tall Starship craft to make the trip to Mars. The company plans to launch it on top of a giant rocket called the Super Heavy. Both of which will be reusable – the same as the company’s Falcon 9 rocket that regularly launches into orbit before coming back down to land.
Starship is undergoing development through a series of prototypes with the most recent one gearing up for a test flight this week.
Once completed, Starship will be able to haul 150 tonnes of cargo or 100 people to Mars on each trip. The early flights in 2022 will be designed to deposit cargo on the Red Planet that can be used by astronauts when they get there in 2024 or 2026.
Musk estimates it will take about a dozen Starship missions to Mars to deliver enough material to build a self-sustaining colony there.
Given the orbit window of Earth and Mars and depending on how many Starships the company can build and launch, we could conceivably have enough gear on Mars for a human settlement by 2050.
According to CNBC, Musk previously sent an email to SpaceX staff saying Starship was now the ‘top SpaceX priority’ and urging them to ‘dramatically and immediately’ speed up the progress on it.
The only other priority is to ‘reduce Dragon return risk’ according to the email.
Starship will eventually become SpaceX’s standard rocket. And now that the company can bank on repeated checks from the US government to ferry astronauts back and forth to the ISS, completing it could be much more achievable.
In 2018, Musk insisted the Mars colony won’t just be an ‘escape hatch for rich people’.
Speaking at SXSW, the billionaire hinted that people whose bank balance is in the red will also be allowed to live on the Red Planet. It’s unclear whether they would actually want to do this because life on Mars is likely to be pretty rubbish at first.
Musk said it would only house ‘the most elementary infrastructure’ with ‘just a base to create propellant, a power station, blast domes in which to grow crops, all the sort of fundamentals without which you could not survive,’ he said.
So that means no nice old pubs, Greggs bakeries or any of the other nice things at first.
‘There will be an explosion of entrepreneurial opportunity because Mars will need everything from iron foundries to pizza joints to nightclubs,’ he added.
Residents could expect a fairer form of government called direct democracy in which ‘everyone votes on every issue’, Musk has previously stated.