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SpaceX Engineer Releases New Details of Elon Musk's First Mars Missions




A top engineer at SpaceX has released new details about the rocket company's still nebulous plans to launch the first humans toward Mars in 2024 and eventually colonize the red planet.

SpaceX Mars Development Engineer Paul Wooster gave a brief presentation on the program at the 21st annual International Mars Society Convention on August 25 in Pasadena, California. On Wednesday, the Mars Society posted the conversation with YouTube. Much of what Wooster said reminds of what his boss Elon Musk has described in presentations, academic studies, and occasional remarks.

Musk has repeatedly said his "ambitious" timeline is the launch of cargo missions to Mars starting in 2022 with manned missions in 2024. However, he ultimately hopes to build cities on Mars and permanently use the planet as a backup drive Colonizing "For humanity, just in case a global catastrophe ruins the earth the way we know it.

Wooster highlighted some of the specific issues SpaceX is facing, and some unanswered questions about what happens

He also indicated that the company needed outside help to address these challenges.

"At SpaceX, we are very focused on transportation," Wooster said during his visit "In terms of what is needed on Mars, SpaceX is very interested in the skills in this area, but also something that I think many people who are not just SpaceX can really contribute to that. "

How SpaceX wants to reach Mars

SpaceX's ability not only to reach Mars, but also to start building a sustainable outpost, will depend entirely on its Big Falcon Rocket (BFR).

The system consists of two parts: a 1

91 foot high, fully reusable booster and a 157 foot spacecraft. The booster will lift the spaceship dozens of miles above the earth, then detach and land for inspection and refueling. After releasing the booster, the spaceship will fire its own engines to reach orbit around the earth.

There the ship will have almost no fuel left. So almost identical tanker ships (maybe a dozen of them, according to some calculations on Reddit) would come on the market to refuel the main ship.

A diagram showing how SpaceX plans to build a base and methane terminal on Mars.
Elon Musk / SpaceX; New Space / Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. Publisher

A large and fully reusable space launch system has not yet been realized – almost all missiles and spaceships are disposable. Experts say it would lower the cost of accessing space, not to mention achieving new goals.

"This allows us to effectively reset the rocket equation," Wooster said. "We expect to bring 100 tonnes or more into a near-earth orbit and then replenish it, and we can take that payload anywhere-including the surface of Mars, the surface of the moon, or anywhere else."

An illustration of SpaceX's Big Falcon Spaceship landing on Mars.
SpaceX

SpaceX is now shifting much of its staff and funds into the construction of the BFR, beginning with the prototyping of the spaceship under a tent in the Port of Los Angeles.

Musk said the BFR spacecraft element was "by far the hardest part" of the system to get it right. He also hopes SpaceX will be able to build its first prototype by mid-2019 and launch short hop tests at the company's rocket factory in southern Texas.

Each BFR spacecraft is also designed to be supplied with methane on Mars to enable it to return to Earth. SpaceX plans to produce this fuel with water from Marsböden, carbon dioxide in the thin air of the planet and electricity from solar panels.

Some of the new details Wooster unveiled

A cut-out illustration showing the crew and cargo area of ​​SpaceX's planned Big Falcon Rocket.
Elon Musk / SpaceX

What? Exactly, the first missions Mars would try to reach remain uncertain, but Wooster gave a few details.

He said the first two freight orders would "confirm the water resources in the places you're interested in, and then identify potential pitfalls for future missions, and then begin building part of the infrastructure you'll need," such as landing pads ,

The next two ships and two extra freighters "would really focus on building the first outposts, doing all the resource work needed to fuel and expanding the base for future activities there," added Wooster added.

Each ship will carry "at least" 100 tons of supplies, he said – about 100 times as much as NASA's Mars rover. This means that the payload of all six ships together would weigh about 150% to 200% of the mass of the entire International Space Station – a structure in football field size that will be built into orbit two decades after the start of the first leg.

Wooster has suggested that this cargo overkill goes beyond redundancy: by transporting far more supplies than any crew member needs for a year-long mission to Mars, SpaceX's bulky equipment can provide many advanced (and non-existent) technologies otherwise it would be necessary to stay on Mars.

"We are minimizing the number of elements we need to develop to enable early missions," Wooster said. "As we progress, we may be able to make future efficiency improvements, but we are very anxious to get to Mars as quickly as possible and set up with a robust surface presence."

Wooster also said the first spaceships would probably be home to astronauts. While this may not be the most convenient facility, it could reduce mission complexity and development by skipping the need to build Mars habitats immediately.

"They would operate with the various systems they support to support the activities there," Wooster said. "They would stay there indefinitely."

Finally, Wooster said that the repatriation of the spaceships and their crews was necessary to cover the costs. (An expert told Business Insiders that SpaceX's BFR development program alone could exceed $ 5 billion.)

"If you go further to reduce costs further, it is beneficial to use these ships several times" by Mars, said Wooster.

An illustration from Paul Wooster's presentation of SpaceX's Mars mission plans.
The Mars Society / YouTube

Find and promote ice – perhaps up to a ton per day, after a slide (above), the Wooster during his presentation – will be the main objective of the first SpaceX Mars missions.

It will also be crucial to replenish it so that it can be combined with carbon dioxide and converted to methane, as well as preparing the planet for future settlers.

"The idea would be to expand, not just start with an outpost, but grow to a bigger base," Wooster said. "Not just a base like in the Antarctic, but really a village, a city that evolves into a city and then several cities on Mars."

Where SpaceX Needs Help

Some of the things Wooster said SpaceX needs help to show how far away the company is from putting together a mission plan that is feasible and viable.

Wooster's presentation showed that SpaceX has four possible landing pads in northern Mars. These are places where it can be cold enough to have huge deposits of ice beneath the surface, but the sunlight is strong enough for solar panels to collect enough energy.

Reddit user CapMSFC, however, claims to have attended the lecture, and then listened to an impromptu question-and-answer session in which Wooster said SpaceX is collaborating with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory staff to find out which one Location is the best candidate. This evaluation is obviously based mainly on images of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, as there is no scouting mission on ice climbing yet.

Wooster also said that the company is not yet sure how it will build land platforms on Mars to ensure safer arrivals for future missions, and would like to take ideas, CapMSFC said.

A prototype of the NASA space suit Z-2, designed for astronauts to explore planetary surfaces.
NASA

Space suits that would work on the surface of Mars are still a mystery, even Wooster allegedly said. (Not even NASA has completed development on a suitable model.)

SpaceX's plans to protect humans from space and Mars radiation are not yet known.

"There are also questions about it, & # 39; What will people do there? How will they live and work?" Said Wooster. He added that it would be a good opportunity to answer profound scientific questions, such as whether life ever exists or still exists on Mars.

"These types of things are really opportunities for just about anyone in the Martian community to get involved," Wooster said. "SpaceX is really focused on getting the transport architecture up and running as fast as possible, but it's true that all these types of activities are possible there, and that should certainly encourage people who can contribute to it."

About four years before the first mission – at least in theory – SpaceX formally met with NASA staff, academics and experts from other space companies to discuss the details of their Mars landing missions.

View Wooster's full presentation of SpaceX's Mars plans


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