SpaceX is almost ready to begin building a permanent human settlement on Mars with its massive Starship rocket.
The private space flight company is set to launch its first undeveloped mission to Mars in just four years, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said during the International Convention on the Society of Mars on Friday (October 16th).
“I think we have a chance to make this second transfer window to Mars,” Musk said in a discussion with the founder of the Mars Society, Robert Zubrin. You can watch a rerun of the talk here.
This window that Musk mentions is a launch option that appears every 26 months for a mission to Mars. NASA, China and the United Arab Emirates launched missions to Mars in July this year. The next window opens in 2022, when Musk refers to the possibility of launching Mars in 2024.
The mission will launch to the Red Planet with the SpaceX Starship, a reusable combination of rockets and spacecraft that is currently being developed at the company̵
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Musk has long said that humans must establish a permanent and self-sustaining presence on Mars to ensure “the continuation of consciousness as we know it” – only if planet Earth remains uninhabited by something like a nuclear war or an asteroid strike.
But SpaceX has no plans to actually build a base on Mars. As a transportation company, its sole purpose is to transport cargo (and people) to and from the Red Planet, facilitating development based on another Mars.
“SpaceX is taking on the biggest challenge, which is the transportation system. There are all sorts of other systems that will be needed,” Mars Society founder Robert Zubrin said during the convention.
“My personal hope is that we will see Starship in the stratosphere before the release this year, and if Elon is right, we will reach orbit next year or next year,” Zubrin added. “It’s going to change people’s minds about what’s possible. And then, you know, we’re going to have NASA trying to fund the rest of the puzzle, or entrepreneurs going forward to work out the rest of the puzzle.”
If Musk’s predictions are correct – he is known for offering overly ambitious deadlines – SpaceX’s first mission to Mars will launch in the same year when NASA astronauts return to the moon under the Artemis program. SpaceX also plans to fly with space tourists on the Starship mission around the moon in 2023. NASA has also selected SpaceX as one of three commercial teams to develop lunar landings for the Artemis program.
Musk said Friday that if it weren’t for the orbital mechanics that call for launches to Mars every 26 months, SpaceX “might have an attempt to send or attempt to send something to Mars in three years,” Musk said, adding that Earth and Mars will not be in the best position. “But the window is four years old because they are in different parts of the solar system.”
Musk revealed his plans for the SpaceX Starship plans in 2016. The project aims to launch a 165-foot (50-meter) spacecraft on top of a massive booster for space missions to the moon, Mars and elsewhere. Both Starship and its Super Heavy amplifier will be reusable.
This year, SpaceX launched two test fields of Starship prototypes, called SN5 and SN6, from its Boca Chica test site in Texas. These flights reached an altitude of 500 feet (150 meters).
SpaceX is currently preparing another Starship prototype, called the SN8, for a 12-mile (20-kilometer) test flight in the near future.
Email Hanneke Weitering at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @hannekescience. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.