SpaceX unveils Mars colonization plans

The SpaceX ITS is one possible way humans could reach Mars in coming years. Image courtesy of SpaceX.
A computer rendering of the ITS arriving at Mars. Image courtesy of SpaceX.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk outlined his company’s plans to send humans to Mars in a talk yesterday.

Speaking at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, Musk unveiled the architecture which SpaceX believes is necessary for such a trip.

Primarily he revealed the development of a rocket called the Interplanetary Transportation System (ITS) which could take over 100 astronauts to Mars.

This craft would address several key cost saving features identified by the company including full reusability, in-orbit refuelling and further fuel production on the Martian surface.

The ITS design revealed by SpaceX, which Musk claims will be very close to the final design, would be the largest rocket ever built.

Despite its size, the rocket’s first stage will be able to return to Earth and land in a similar fashion to the company’s existing Falcon 9 rockets.

The second stage, which doubles as a crew vehicle, would then be visited several times by other SpaceX rockets to refuel, before undertaking the 100+ day journey to Mars.

“What I really want to try to achieve here is to make Mars seem possible – like it’s something we can achieve in our lifetimes,” said Musk.

The main stated goal of the ITS is to make humans a multiplanetary species through the establishment of a colony on Mars.

As earlier announced, the company believes that the first such manned mission to Mars could occur as early as 2024, with a landing happening in 2025.

Nonetheless Musk warned that initial trips to Mars would be incredibly dangerous due to their experimental nature.

“The risk of fatality will be high. There’s no way around it. Basically, are you prepared to die, and if that’s ok then you’re a candidate for going,” he said.

Funding questions unresolved

SpaceX estimates that the total development cost of such a mission would be around $10bn, meaning the company alone will be unlikely to fund it.

With this is mind, the company did not rule out partnering with Nasa, describing the possibility for a huge ‘public-private partnership’.

Moreover, Musk himself also stated that he was “personally accumulating assets” in order to assist with the ITS funding.