SpaceX: The Interplanetary Rocket System announcement and colonising Mars


Alex Corvadt – Tech Analyst

The Brief:

SpaceX has wowed journalists and space enthusiasts with its first detailed announcement of its ambitious mission to Mars.

The SpaceX Interplanetary Transport System is the largest rocket and shuttle ever developed by the company. The new transport system stands at almost 122 meters tall, almost twice that of the company’s current work-horse, the Falcon 9 which is 70 meters tall.

It also includes a number of key innovations that have become the company’s signature – a re-usable rocket engine, and a space shuttle that will utilise Solar Sails on its journey to Mars.

Check out the incredible footage below:

Watch the announcement:

To Mars

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is in Guadalajara, Mexico, to address the International Astronautical Conference. It’s a key moment for the private space company, since all the major players in the space sector will be present, most important of which being NASA.

Analysts believe that Mr. Musk will be attempting to drum up interest and impress his competitors and critics. Any mission to Mars will be extremely costly and will require massive backing from both the public and private sectors. That’s not even taking into account the long-term costs of setting up and maintaining a colony on Mars which  would need to be self-sufficient.

It’s big:

The Interplanetary Rocket System itself is a monstrously sized successor to the highly successful Falcon 9. It is made up of two parts – the re-usable Rocket that The Verge has dubbed the BFR (or, “big f*cking rocket”), and the shuttle itself that The Verge has similarly called the BFS (Big F*cking Ship).

Info-graphic by The Verge. 
  • The company plans to send 100 people per trip to the Mars. Ultimately, it is hoped the shuttle will be capable of carrying 200.
  • The first shuttle is planned to be called the “Heart of God”, a reference to the novel Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
  • The Trip is forecast to take between 80 and 150 days. The Company hopes to cut down transit to 30 days in the future.
  • The BFS will be capable of carrying up to 450 tonnes of cargo.
  • Both the Shuttle and Rocket are planned to be re-usable.
  • Colonists will not be on a one-way trip. Colonists will have the option of returning with the shuttle.
  • The BFR will generate a gigantic 28,730,000 pounds of thrust thanks to SpaceX’s next generation Raptor engines. Compare that to the current Falcon 9 which generates 1.7 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.

Related Coverage:

SpaceX’s Triumph: Reusable rockets and the new frontier

The Plan:

1: The Interplanetary Rocket System launches into orbit. Once in space, the BFR detaches from the BFS, returning to the launch pad while the BFS waits in orbit.

2: The BFR will be rapidly re-fuelled. It will then have a fuel module attached to its top in place of the BFS.

3: The BFR launches again, taking the fuel module with it. In orbit it meets with the BFS. The fuel module will then be transferred to the BFS and the BFR will return to Earth.

4: The BFS will then use the fuel to begin its journey to Mars, deploying Solar arrays for its journey through the solar-system.

5: Once it reaches Mars, the shuttle will enter the atmosphere and begin its fiery descent down to the surface where its rockets should allow it to make a controlled descent and landing.

What we didn’t see:

What the video didn’t show us were details. At the moment, SpaceX has been pretty hush-hush about what kind of technology is being developed to get our intrepid travellers out to the red planet and support them through challenges such as solar radiation. There are still big questions as to how SpaceX plans to fund such an ambitious mission or even how much it is expected to cost. The more exciting question surrounds how and what shape  a Mars colony would come to pass and look like.

Perhaps the most enticing titbit of information came at the very end of the video. As The Verge pointed out, the very last seconds of the video show a mars that suddenly transforms into a very earth-like planet. Will Mr. Musk announce plans to Terra-form the plant?

These are the most exciting announcements about Space in years. Stay tuned.

Want to learn more? Check out Elon Musk’s plans for Humans to become a multi-planetary civilisation:

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