Elon Musk – CEO of electric car manufacturer Tesla and commercial space exploration firm SpaceX – is on a mission to change the world, one rocket launch at a time.
Speaking at the International Astronautical Congress, Musk made some explosive announcements about the road ahead for SpaceX – the science that has the potential to change our future forever. Explaining his vision, Musk announced that he is refocusing SpaceX's resources to work on "just one type of vehicle that could do all of the firm's current business and interplanetary travel".
He explained how these new changes will help hasten the process of making humans an interplanetary species, with presence on Mars and, possibly, beyond.
"The future is vastly more exciting and interesting if we’re a space-faring species than if we’re not... It’s about believing in the future and thinking the future will be better than the past."
The tech mogul said the restructuring of the resources would see the company create a giant rocket codenamed the Big Fucking Rocket (BFR), work on which is expected to begin in the next 6 to 9 months. Initially, the BFR will carry out cargo missions to the red planet – at least two by the end of 2022 – and then follow it up with further transport missions carrying human settlers to Mars by 2024.
Musk, in the past, has spoken at length about his vision for setting up a human colony on Mars and mentioned plans of sending humans to the planet, initially to kick-start work on the colony that he hopes will one day grow into a thriving city of one million Martians.
Speaking about the plan, he said: "I’m confident we can complete the ship and be ready for a launch in five years. Five years seems a long time to me."
How will Musk pull this off?
So this is where things start to get messy. To achieve these ambitious goals, the company would need a lot of money and resources – something that Musk claims would not be possible without making some difficult choices. SpaceX, which currently operates a fully functional commercial spaceflight programme using three rockets that it developed over the years – Falcon 9, the Falcon Heavy and the Dragon spacecraft – would make the BFR a reality by transferring all available resources to the massive project.
But it won't just stop there. Musk informed that the next five years would also see the cannibalisation of the current generation commercial payload carriers to create the new rocket which would subsume the duties of the current programme and more.
"We can build a system that cannibalises our own products, makes our own products redundant, then all the resources we use for Falcon Heavy and Dragon can be applied to one system”. He further went on to add, "all our resources will turn toward building BFR, and we believe we can do this with the revenue we receive from launching satellites and servicing the space station.”
And there's more
And just in case you're not impressed with Musk's plans to take the human race to Mars, there's more for you. Musk, during the announcement, also revealed that Space X's new crown jewel, the BFR, will not just stop at space and interplanetary travels, but also be used to help take people from one part of the planet to the other.
The idea here is to provide a revolutionary way of transport within the planet. The aim, he says, is to cut down travel time to any part of the earth by several hours and bring it down to 30-60 minutes.
For example, under this new mode of transport, the travel time between New York to Shanghai would be a mere 39 minutes. And if Musk is to be believed, the cost for this superfast mode of transport per seat "should be about the same as full fare economy in an aircraft".
But is it really possible?
Considering how government-owned space agencies like NASA with billions in the bank are still trying to figure out safe and sustainable methods of carrying out interplanetary missions, the announcement by Musk — of transforming SpaceX from a company tasked with carrying commercial payload just beyond the outer reaches of the Earth's atmosphere to one that will soon navigate humans onto Mars'surface — may seem fantastical, but if the company's history is anything to go by, there's a good possibility that the future may eventually turn out according to Musk's vision.
As the tech mogul pointed out during his address, SpaceX's current project – the Falcon 9 rocket – has pretty much worked flawlessly and been perfected by the Space X team in a very short span of time.
Crucially for the company, the data collected from these successful missions would eventually prove to be an important ingredient in making BFR's interplanetary dreams a success.
Explaining the gameplan, Musk said: “The Falcon 9 lands on a single engine and when you have high reliability with single engine, then you can land with either of two engines –which the BFR will have – and can achieve landing reliability on par with most commercial airlines... That’s what they’ve been doing across 16 successful landings in a row."
Agreed, the numbers need to be given a long hard look, and the BFR programme may have to revaluate the cost and timeline of the project in the coming years, but it’s hard to deny this project has everything going for it.