Chandrakant 'CK' Isi
29th Sep 2016
Elon Musk is often compared to Marvel's Tony Stark. A guy with crazy ideas and money turn them into reality. Early in his career, he headed PayPal for a brief time. When the payment gateway company was acquired by Ebay, Musk got his share of $165 millions. You bet he loves the deep blue space as Elon invested most of this money into forming his private space transport company SpaceX in 2002. The company successful built the rockets and also proved the world that it can be done for a significantly lower price. Soon, it was awarded the contract from NASA to transport payload to ISS (International Space Station). Building onto this success, Elon Musk has now set eyes on the red planet. According to him, colonizing Mars is essential for the survival of the humanity.
Addressing the International Astronautical Congress meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico, Elon said that he does not have an immediate doomsday prophecy, but there are only two possible ways forward. "One path is to stay on Earth forever, and there will be some extinction event. The alternative is to become a multi-planetary species, which I hope you will agree is the right way to go.” True, that's the right approach. However, if you wondering how Musk is hoping to make that happen, here's his plan:
To address the cost issue, Space X will be taking the airlines industry approach. Using the current technology, the journey to Mars would cost around $10 billion per person. Musk is confident that planning large scale missions can bring the expenses per person to "median cost of a house in the United States". Of course, it will be helped by doing away with the 3-stage vehicle system and refuelling in orbit. For those not in the know, leaving Earth is an incredibly tricky affair. As XKCD guy, who previously worked for NASA, explains: If we want to launch a 65-kilogram spaceship, we need to burn around 90 kilograms of fuel. We load that fuel on board—and now our spaceship weighs 155 kilograms. A 155-kilogram spaceship requires 215 kilograms of fuel, so we load another 125 kilograms on board ... Fortunately, we’re saved from an infinite loop—where we add 1.3 kilograms for every 1 kilogram we add—by the fact that we don’t have to carry that fuel all the way up. We burn it as we go, so we get lighter and lighter, which means we need less and less fuel.
Musk wants to reduce the initial fuel load by relying on orbital refuelling, which sound like a great idea. However, on the way back, the plan is to leverage on resources available on Mars. Now, this is where the things get scary. Basically, we are going to a different planet, and the return plans depend on our success in extracting the right propellent. Musk claims that the only raw material they will be needing on Mars is water and CO2, which are in abundance on the red planet. In reality, it is speculated that the Mars has 5 million cubic km ice, but what if we fail to extract that? At this point, there's no clear answer to this.
Carbon fibre has excellent weight to strength ratio, so that's what the company is going to use to reduce the overall spacecraft's weight during the launch. According to Space X, upon completion, the Mars Vehicle will be the most efficient rocket. It will also be the biggest rocket ever made. You can see how tiny India's GSLV looks in comparison.
Space X will also develop a brand new engine called Raptor to drive the interplanetary spaceship. The spaceship will ideally hold 100+ travellers. The entry into Mar's atmosphere seems figured out as Elon's company is quite confident about its current expertise in the heat shields.
The touch down will be controlled by Raptor engine's final vertical landing burn. The manoeuvre will be similar to what SpaceX had achieved with the booster landing a few months ago.
Time and again Space X has proved that it can deliver it is promise. There's no doubt that the company has potential to pull this one off either. What concerns me is the tight deadline Elon Musk talked about. According to him, the Mars flights will lift off in next 6 - 10 years. Even if the company overcomes the technological hurdles, the biggest question remains about the stupendous amount of money required. And as far as the funding is concerned, this is what Space X has to say:
Here's How Elon Musk Is Planning To Colonise Mars
The Space X programme gives a new meaning to the term moonshot.
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