Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX Company, is going to hold a presentation and present a big “update” on his idea of colonization of Mars this Friday within the framework of the meeting of the International Congress of Astronautics, which will be held in the Australian city of Adelaide.
At this meeting, he is going to share new details of the plan, which he told at the IAC conference held in Mexico last year, where he announced the desire to send a few thousand people to the Martian surface.
At the same time, the conversation, most likely, will go about how to implement this plan in reality.
At the moment, Musk only hinted at some things about which he will speak at the presentation at the end of this week.
And apparently, we can expect the announcement of a new and more compact launch vehicle, as well as details on how it is going to receive funds for its development.
In addition, Elon said that we are waiting for some surprises as to how this carrier rocket can be used.
The Smaller Rocket
The central figure in the plan for the colonization of Mars is a huge rocket and a spacecraft called the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS), which will be used to transport people to Mars and to return them back to Earth.
However, Musk has several times hinted that he is going to present a new and more compact version of the “Interplanetary transport system”, which, in his opinion, will be much more practical in use.
The current version of ITS, presented last year, is a carrier rocket capable of lifting up to 100 colonists on its board.
It is assumed that the rocket will be reusable and its main part will produce a soft landing, as well as the main stage of the Falcon 9 booster.
At the same time, the ship (residential) part will remain in orbit and wait for a new launch, within which it will be delivered the fuel needed to fly to Mars.
This design implies the creation of a really large missile.
The height of the carrier in combination with the spacecraft will be more than 121 meters, which will make it above the rocket “Saturn-5” of the aerospace agency NASA, which carried astronauts to the moon.
In addition, the diameter of the ITS will be almost 12 meters, and the main stage will use as many as 42 engines.
In this case, ITS becoming the largest missile ever created. This size is one of the reasons that Musk once called her BFR (Big Fucking Rocket).
As for the more compact version, it is likely to be somewhat narrower. And, probably, with fewer engines than the original design suggests.
This will make the “Interplanetary transport system” more practical.
“When you reduce something on a scale, you have more opportunities to use,” commented Bobby Brown, an aerospace engineer and dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Colorado, The Verge.
For example, the launch vehicle “Saturn-5” was developed only for one purpose – to bring people to the moon.
But more compact launch vehicles, such as the Falcon 9 of SpaceX or the Atlas-5 of the United Launch Alliance, can be used for a wider range of space missions, from satellite launches to the delivery of the payload to the International Space Station.
The more compact version of the ITS missile will have more room for application, besides sending people to Mars.
On his page in Instagram, Musk even noted that “certain aspects of the new design and use will be quite unexpected.”
For clarity, we should add that the rocket will continue to be large.
“It is more than anything that exists today,” Brown adds.
“That is, a rocket, which should initially be simply gigantic, it was decided to reduce the size a little and make it just big.”
A more compact and versatile design will solve another problem that is getting in the way of the ambitious Musk plan – accessibility.
One of the criticisms that sound in the direction of the idea of the Musk is related to how unrealistic it looks from the point of view of development cost and time.
SpaceX is known for its cheaper carrier rockets than competitors, but the development and construction of a giant ITS rocket is likely to cost several billion dollars.
Despite this, Musk and SpaceX stated that they would be ready to send the first colonists to Mars already in 2024.
And this despite the fact that the company itself is ready to invest only 5 percent of the full cost of the project.
Reducing the size of ITS will definitely reduce the cost of development since the creation of more compact missiles in the long-term perspective can really cost less than the creation of large ones.
And the more orders will be used for its construction, Brown believes, the more effective and cheaper will be its production with time.
Ultimately, ITS cannot only deliver people to Mars but also be used for other projects, including commercial ones.
“Small missiles fly more often, therefore, there should be more customers,” says Brown, adding that as a result, such an approach can fully pay back the costs of its development.
Musk seems to be thinking in the same direction:
“The key question for you, probably, is – where to find money for it?” – he said at the annual conference on research and development on board of the International Space Station, held in Washington in July this year.
“If we reduce the size of the missile that will be used for flights to Mars, we will make it more suitable for use in near-Earth space missions, then we will be able to get money for it from these near-Earth space missions.”
Or maybe to the moon?
Another option for solving the monetary issue for Musk is certainly – just ask for support from the government.
It is likely that this issue will be another subject of discussion this Friday.
Musk believing that humanity must finally gather strength and go straight to the Red Planet without spending money and time to create the first colony first on the Moon.
However, in recent months, the CEO of SpaceX seems to have shifted its priorities to some extent.
In February, SpaceX announced a plan to send two tourists to travel to the moon sometime in 2018.
Then in July, Musk announced during the ISS R & D conference that the permanent presence of a man on the moon was one of the ultimate goals of the Apollo space program.
“In order to truly attract the attention of people, we need to build a base on the Moon,” Musk said at that meeting.
Such changes in thoughts, perhaps, are connected with the political shifts that are taking place now in the country.
During the Obama Administration, NASA was seriously set on “traveling to Mars” and landing a man on the Red Planet.
But after the election of the new president last year, the prerequisites have appeared, according to which the new administration of President Trump can change the course of space research and turn it toward the Moon.
The US aerospace agency already has a plan for the construction of the orbital lunar space station “Deep Space Gateway”.
And at a speech at the Kennedy Space Center, US Vice President Mike Pence said that “the nation is ready to return to the moon,” although not specifying exactly when this will happen.
We should also mention the words of Scott Pace, the executive director of the newly-formed Space Administration, who stated that the refusal to study the moon during the Obama Administration was a real mistake for NASA.
For now, it’s just speculation, but maybe this Friday Musk will tell you how his ITS missile can be used for lunar space launches, which can draw NASA’s attention and get the agency to support him.
Last year, Musk already noted how important it would be for the state to provide financial support for the development of ITS, but this was at a time when the agency was entirely focused on Mars.
If the Trump administration tells NASA to return to the lunar program, then the most successful moment for Musk will be to try to get this support, indicating in his speech and the desire to go to the moon.
“He last year hinted that he might need state funding, which we guessed ourselves about,” commented Brian Widen, space expert and program director of the Secure World Foundation, commenting on The Verge.
“There are prerequisites to the fact that NASA can change course towards the Moon, abandoning plans for Mars. And the difficulty is that it is not entirely clear whether there will be a place for Ilona and SpaceX in this plan. “
It is important to note that not only NASA wants to go back to the moon.
Space agencies in Europe, Russia, and China – all are interested in lunar missions and the construction of permanent bases there.
And this is if you do not talk about private companies like Lockheed Martin, United Launch Alliance and many others that have the same plans.
There are still a lot of mysteries around the Musk on Mars.
For example, how people can survive on the Red Planet.
He himself is still reluctant to comment on such issues, nor does he say how the Martian colony can look and what kind of life support system he will offer to use it.
“I think the important issue here is also what they will do if they actually get there,” says Widen.
It is possible that we will not know the answers to these and other questions this week.
Musk himself, last year, boldly declared that he was more interested in the fact that people could get to Mars, and to a lesser extent the technologies needed to keep these people alive.
“The challenge for SpaceX is to create an efficient transport system. It’s like building a Union-Pacific Railroad, “the founder of SpaceX said at the time.
“As soon as this transport system is created, anyone who wants to go to Mars and create something new there, lay the foundation of a new society, there will be such an opportunity.”
More detailed information about what awaits us, of course, we will not wait until Friday. So let’s have patience.
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