As reported by NPR, Elon Musk finally gave us all the details of his plans for a human mission to Mars using his newly named Interplanetary Transport System – formerly dubbed the Mars Colonial Transporter. The Interplanetary Transport System will provide an infrastructure for Musk’s goal of making humanity a multi-planet species. Undaunted by the explosion of a Falcon 9 last month, SpaceX is moving forward.
For years now, space exploration enthusiasts have been waiting for Elon Musk to fill in the blanks about his long-term plans for Mars. Musk has frequently suggested that he intended to build a system and a vehicle that would be capable of carrying either 100 people or 100 tons of cargo to the surface of Mars.
This capacity would be an order of magnitude greater than anything NASA has ever landed on the red planet. Many speculated as to just how Elon Musk would accomplish this. With the revelations about his Interplanetary Transport System, we have the answer.
The launch vehicle itself would be the largest rocket ever launched from the surface of the Earth. According to a tweet by Musk just prior to his speech in Mexico, the rocker booster will be over 39 feet in diameter, the spacecraft at the top will be over 55 feet in diameter and the total height of the stack will be over 400 feet high.
As a whole, the rocket is known as the BFG, or Big F’ing Rocket. In the video, the rocket is loaded on the pad with passengers or cargo and crew. It then launches, carrying the spacecraft into low Earth orbit. Along the way, the booster detaches and returns to the launch site using a powered landing.
The booster is then refueled and a propellant tanker is stacked on top. The booster carries this additional fuel into orbit and then returns again to the Earth for later missions.
The propellant tanker meets up with the Mars spacecraft in orbit, where the fuel is transferred from the tanker. The tanker then lands for reuse as well. This is the key to Elon Musk’s plan to get lots of cargo and humans to Mars.
Refueling a ship in orbit means it can carry much more tonnage to Mars. It also makes it possible to achieve much higher speeds and get to Mars more quickly. According to Musk, the spacecraft will travel at over 63,000 mph during its trip.
Along the way to Mars, the spacecraft will deploy a massive solar array to provide more than 200kw of power for the ship and passengers. Once the spacecraft reaches Mars, the solar array is retracted prior to entry into the Martian atmosphere.
As Elon Musk points out, the spacecraft will then use the same propulsive landing technique to land on Mars that SpaceX has used to land its Falcon 9 boosters on Earth.
Even on Mars, the concept of the reusability of the spacecraft is maintained. It is Musk’s intention to create propellant farms on Mars that will extract methane from the available resources on Mars so it can be used by the methane-fueled rockets of the Interplanetary Transport System spacecraft.
Once refueled on Mars, the spacecraft would be able to launch itself on the journey back to Earth. The lower gravity of Mars and thinner atmosphere makes this part of the process much easier than on Earth.
Once this system is in operation, Elon Musk wants to establish a fully realized and self-sustaining city on the surface of Mars. This new Jamestown would not only expand the horizons for humanity, it will provide a safe haven for the human race if disaster ever strikes the Earth. But as CNBC reports Musk saying, the new settlers on Mars, like the Jamestown founders, might face high fatalities in the early days.
[Feature Image via YouTube]