Founder and CEO of SpaceX Elon Musk continues to develop and invest in his many projects around the globe, including Tesla and SolarCity. However, he has clearly stated that working on SpaceX is his top priority from now until 2022, when the company’s biggest project ever is intended to succeed: making life multi-planetary.
SpaceX was founded in March 2002. The company, a manufacturer of space aerospace technology and space transport services, possesses myriad ambitious goals. Their most fascinating, relevant, and frankly shocking mission, however, is to bring human life to other planets. In Musk’s 2017 speech “Making Humans a Multi-Planetary Species,” he described the reasons why SpaceX is choosing Mars rather than other planets to civilize, as well as describing the details of the system architecture and the sources of funding for the project. Musk captivatingly introduced the speech, saying, “You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great—and that’s what being a spacefaring civilization is all about. It’s about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past. And I can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars.”
In April of 2016, SpaceX initially announced their bold goal to land cargo missions on Mars by 2018, although that shows no signs of happening anytime soon. In September of 2017, Musk unveiled an updated vehicle design for what is now being called the BFR (Big Falcon Rocket). Despite the intention of the BFR to be used on Earth for long distance trips, the BFR is significant to the Mars trip because it can also be used for a voyage of that magnitude. He first addressed what was ambiguous in earlier statements by SpaceX: how they will pay for the BFR. Essentially, they want to have “one boosting ship that replaces Falcon Nine, Falcon Heavy, and Dragon” (the names of a spacecraft, a rocket, and another spacecraft, respectively). According to Musk, if they can do that, then all the resources that are currently being used used for Falcon Nine, Heavy, and Dragon can be applied to the BFR system, saving considerable money. Perhaps most importantly, they want the spacecraft to be reusable to avoid the costs of building multiple models, each with a pricetag of several billion dollars.
Musk stated the next two fundamental issues to creating a successful rocket are ensuring a propulsive landing and manufacturing a huge carbon-fiber tank that can hold cryogenic (helium-based cooling) liquid in order to create a lighter ship. SpaceX has been practicing “perfect propulsive landing” with Falcon Nine and they now have had sixteen successful landings in a row. Musk elaborated, describing that each landing has been done with a single engine, and that the BFR will have multi-engine capacity. Because SpaceX has had very high reliability with just a single engine, proven by the consecutive successful test landings of the Falcon Nine, Musk claimed the BFR will be reliable with its multiple engines. Furthermore, the ability for the BFR to hold vast amounts of cryogenic liquids means the rocket will be able to withstand extremely hot temperatures, and will thus be reusable.
Musk explained how the Mars-Earth planetary synchronization needed to launch such a mission occurs only every two years, and therefore this limits the chance to fly to the red planet in the coming years. The 2024 goal is to have four ships: two cargo ships, and two crew ships, to bring the first people in history to Mars.
These details are just a peek inside SpaceX’s intrepid plan to land humans on Mars by 2024, and at least to land two cargo ships by 2022. The two cargo missions are intended to confirm water resources and identify hazards. In addition, they will place power, mining, and life support infrastructure for future flights. Towards the end of his 2017 speech, Musk displayed a screen which stated that by 2022, cargo missions would reach Mars. He humorously said to the crowd: “That’s not a typo, although it is aspirational.”