Elon Musk unveils SpaceX’s ambitious Mars colony plans

SpaceX chief Elon Musk has made no secret of his desire to establish a human colony on Mars, but what had been lacking were details of how he hoped to make it happen – until Tuesday, that is, when he unveiled his grandiose plan for sending one million people to the Red Planet.

Just hours after the aerospace development company released a computer-animated video which showed concept footage of the rocket that would be used to launch from Earth, a station orbiting the planet that would be used for refueling and a solar-powered space transportation capsule, the SpaceX founder and CEO provided more details at an industry conference in Mexico.

Speaking at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Guadalajara, Musk revealed what he referred to as the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS), a spacecraft which he claims will use the most powerful rocket ever constructed and a capsule capable of carrying at least 100 men and women at a time, according to Space.com and ABC News reports.

The ITS will be a 400-foot tall vehicle built out of carbon fiber, and will be refueled in mid-orbit by a reusable rocket before ultimately using a built-in solar array to compete the roughly three to four-month journey to Mars, the publications explained. Once it is ready to come back to Earth, it would use methane gas produced on the Red Planet as the power source for its return voyage.

Musk envisions a ‘fleet’ of ITS spacecraft, but at what cost?

The booster that the new spacecraft will use “will be more or less a scaled-up version” of the first stage rocket now being used to power SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, Musk told Space.com and other members of the media during Tuesday’s announcement. However, it will feature 42 of their more powerful Raptor engines, compared to the nine Merlin engines used for the Falcon 9.

If the ITS does indeed wind up being 400-feet tall, it would be the largest spacecraft system ever constructed, the 363-foot system used to launch Skylab and the Apollo lunar capsules during the 1960s and 1970s. The ultimate goal, Musk said, is to develop a fleet of at least 1,000 spaceships to help establish a self-sustaining colony in the Red Planet within the next 50 to 100 years.

His ambitious plan is to send at least one million people to Mars within a century of the original manned mission, which he believes could be launched as soon as 2024, according to ABC News. Musk has yet to reveal how much all of this will cost, but told reporters that funding this project is the primary reason that he is “personally accumulating assets,” and that he hoped that funding from the public would “snowball” once SpaceX makes progress towards their goal.

While building the spacecraft would be costly, it wouldn’t exactly be cheap to purchase a seat on the first trip to Mars either, according to CBS News. Musk said that it would cost upwards of $10 billion per ticket to complete such a voyage using the Apollo moon mission architecture, but that he hoped that his company’s new technology would reduce that cost to about $200,000/seat.

“There are really two fundamental paths. One path is we stay on Earth forever, and there will be some eventual extinction event,” Musk said at the IAC conference. “The alternative is to become a space-faring civilization and a multi-planet species. That’s what we want.”


Image credit: SpaceX