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Elon Musk with the Falcon 9  (Source:
SpaceX founder Elon Musk hopes to send humans to Mars in 10 to 15 years

California-based space transport company SpaceX is looking to build a fully reusable orbital launch system that could make spaceflight more affordable, and eventually send people to Mars for permanent settlement.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, has mapped out a way for the Falcon 9 rocket to deliver a Dragon spacecraft to orbit, then return to the launch site by touching down vertically under rocket power on landing gear. At the same time, the Dragon would make a supplies delivery to the International Space Station and return from orbit to make its own landing.

Achieving a reusable space transport has been difficult because of the engineering challenges associated with such a feat, but many have tried because a totally reusable rocket would cut the cost of spaceflight. Traditional rockets can only be used once, and a Falcon 9, for example, can cost about $50 million to $60 million.

Over the past year, Musk and his team at SpaceX managed to solve the complexities that have stumped many before and even made an animation of how the plan could work, which is a 90 percent accurate depiction. They now hope to make the reusable rocket system a reality.

"Now, we could fail -- I'm not saying we are certain of success here -- but we are to try to do it," said Musk. "And we have a design that on paper -- doing the calculations, doing the simulations -- it does work. Now, we need to make sure that those simulations and reality agree, because generally when they don't, reality wins."

According to Musk, a Falcon 9 can cost about $50 million to $60 million, but fuel and oxygen for one launch only costs $200,000. So if the rocket can be reused, he said, around 1,000 times, the capital cost of the rocket per launch would only be approximately $50,000.

"If it does work, it'll be pretty huge," said Musk.

As far as long-term goals go, Musk sees the reusable rockets carrying settlers to Mars in an effort to "make humanity a multiplanetary species" in the event that something disasterous should happen on Earth.

Musk went on to suggest that spending a quarter of a percent of an annual gross domestic product of $14 trillion (which would be $35 billion annually) on space development and a focus on Mars-related missions. This sort of budget could drop the cost of Mars travel to $500,000 per person, he said.

According to Musk, sending humans to Mars could take as much as 10 to 15 years, and estimates that if the human population is at 8 billion at that time, that a minimum of 8,000 people could afford to travel to Mars.

Before launching humans into space, SpaceX capsules must first meet the safety standards that the now-retired NASA Space Shuttle program had to meet. This includes a launch escape system, which SpaceX capsules currently do not have, but reportedly will in about two or three years.

Sources: MSNBC,

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I must be missing something
By kattanna on 9/30/11, Rating: 0
RE: I must be missing something
By Slappi on 9/30/2011 12:42:01 PM , Rating: 3
That is just the cost of the rocket per use. You would still have to add in the fuel costs.... so going by the article it would be $50,000 + $200,000 (fuel) = $250,000 per launch.

RE: I must be missing something
By Kurz on 9/30/2011 12:42:38 PM , Rating: 2
You are... he is refering only to the Rocket not the fuel.

RE: I must be missing something
By mrdelldude on 9/30/2011 12:43:17 PM , Rating: 3
The cost of the rocket would drop, not the fuel.

Instead of costing 50 million per launch, it would be 50 million / 1,000 launches = 50,000 in rocket cost per launch.

Fuel/Oxygen would still be 200,000.

RE: I must be missing something
By MastermindX on 9/30/2011 12:45:01 PM , Rating: 2
Multiple launch doesn't make it any cheaper. What is made cheaper is the rocket cost per launch.

Single use rocket = $50 millions
1000 use rocket = $50 millions / 1000 = $50 thousands

So instead of costing $50.2 millions each launch, it costs $250 thousands. So about 200 times less.

RE: I must be missing something
By mmp121 on 9/30/2011 1:03:22 PM , Rating: 2
You are missing something, the wording:

He said the Falcon9 costs, 50 to 60 million. He wants to launch it 1000 times. Doing the math:

50,000,000 / 1,000 = 50,000

He is talking about the launch vehicle, i.e. Falcon9.

Not the cost of the launch.

RE: I must be missing something
By bug77 on 9/30/2011 3:02:48 PM , Rating: 1
He's got it wrong anyway.
It would cost you $50.000 plus the costs of storage, maintenance...
Or maybe he was oversimplifying.

RE: I must be missing something
By Jeffk464 on 10/1/2011 9:15:45 PM , Rating: 2
Yup, you still have to go through every system between launches like they did for the shuttle.

RE: I must be missing something
By nafhan on 10/3/2011 10:35:21 AM , Rating: 2
True, but most of those costs are there regardless of whether or not the rocket gets reused.

RE: I must be missing something
By bug77 on 10/5/2011 7:32:41 AM , Rating: 2
You have to store and maintain a rocket that doesn't return from space?

RE: I must be missing something
By Jeffk464 on 10/1/2011 9:13:03 PM , Rating: 2
Whats wrong with a parachute anyways? Its simple, effective, and light weight. I would say it would be still smart to use one as pat of a staged decent and then use rockets for the final touch down. I like the idea of recovering the first stage though, sure makes a lot of sense. I always wondered why they didn't make the first stage drop off early enough in the launch so it could be recovered, similar to the solid boosters on the shuttle.

RE: I must be missing something
By delphinus100 on 10/2/2011 1:37:11 PM , Rating: 3
Parachute landing on can bend/break hardware.

Parachute landing on have to deal with salt water immersion issues.

Controlled landing (whether on wings or pure rocket thrust), service it, refuel it, fly gain.

Over simplified, but you get the idea.

RE: I must be missing something
By Jeffk464 on 10/2/2011 10:06:32 PM , Rating: 2
I know that's why I was saying as a stage, use the parachutes for a lot of the decent, jettison them, and then use the rockets to touch down.

By delphinus100 on 10/6/2011 7:54:03 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, that's kind of what the Russians have always done with Soyuz, except they don't jettison the parachutes, and the rocket thrust kicks in at literally the last second, by way of a ground contact probe trigger...

I'm sure, of course, that you mean to start higher.

re-use a thousand times?
By docawolff on 9/30/2011 3:02:41 PM , Rating: 2
Wow. I would be really impressed if they could engineer a rocket that could be simply re-fueled and re-launched a thousand times. Even with exhaustive maintenance I suspect the practical limit on a rocket's frame is less than 100 flights.

Furthermore, a lifetime of 1000 flights would imply a failure rate of less than 0.1%. Bear in mind that a chemical rocket is basically a very slow and (hopefully!) well-controlled explosion. A failure rate of less than 0.1% seems... optimistic.

RE: re-use a thousand times?
By JediJeb on 9/30/2011 3:56:22 PM , Rating: 1
Same can be said about an internal combustion engine or an air plane. Both of those have been improved over the decades to last much longer than the originals would have.

How many times were the shuttle SRBs reused over the years? Or in fact the main engines of the shuttles? As long as the frame is engineered for well beyond the stress a launch puts on it, then it should last quite a while. The engines themselves would need to be maintained just as any other engines with the wear parts replaced on a regular basis but that should still be cheaper than building an entire rocket system and dumping it in the ocean or burning it up in the atmosphere each time.

RE: re-use a thousand times?
By docawolff on 9/30/2011 5:17:13 PM , Rating: 3
Your points are well-taken and I agree that the automobile or the airplane have been continuously improved to become extremely reliable.

However, to take your example of the automobile, if the engine quit on an early auto, or a tire went flat, that did not usually mean loss of the vehicle. A rocket is a little different, and the consequence of engine failure is usually loss of the vehicle.

As to the re-use of the SRB--would you believe six or seven times? see: Even sixty or seventy times would be a far cry from 1,000.

I suspect that we are basically discussing two sides of the same issue. I agree that eventually we will probably see a spacecraft that can go a thousand flights without essentially rebuilding it over the course of those thousand flights. At the same time, right now, even if you just count the US space shuttle flights (135) there were two failures (1.5% failure rate). We have a way to go on the engineering.

RE: re-use a thousand times?
By Ringold on 9/30/2011 9:49:13 PM , Rating: 2
The STS may have had a 1.5% failure rate, but we also learned a good bit from both failures, both technically and in people management. NASA also touts the shuttles as the most complicated vessels ever built by man, which sounds impressive but would also be a breeding ground for problems.

SpaceX has a ton of advantages, including relative simplicity, and decades worth of technical advancement and no public-sector constraints.

RE: re-use a thousand times?
By mmatis on 9/30/2011 6:37:12 PM , Rating: 1
I hate to tell you this, but they ARE "dumping it in the ocean" each launch. It DOES parachute in, like the Shuttle's SRBs did, but instead of a solid rocket motor, this is a liquid booster with the various and sundry components required for it to work. Yes, the engine will have cooled by the time it impacts the water, but the orifices in the combustion chamber are not salt-water friendly. Same for the wiring and other electronic components on the engine. Have you LOOKED at a large liquid rocket engine lately? Looky-loos routinely derided the SRBs as non-reusable due to the amount of rework required before they could be reused. Yet solid boosters are FAR less complex than liquid.

But then this does give the politicians another way to spend tax dollars. Which I suppose is the MOST important criteria these days.

RE: re-use a thousand times?
By Jedi2155 on 9/30/2011 7:39:55 PM , Rating: 2
If you actually read the article or looked it up, they are not "dumping it in the ocean." The goal of the resuable SpaceX rockets is to literally reland the boosters with existing fuel.

Just watch the video.

RE: re-use a thousand times?
By mmatis on 10/1/2011 9:57:10 AM , Rating: 2
Nice "goal", but they are CURRENTLY dumping it in the ocean. And computer graphics can sure do wonders. Let me know when they have the first working version of their flyback booster. And let me know how they got it through Range Safety. THAT should be a very interesting series of meetings...

The laws of physics tend to get in the way of these fine ideas. And no, the "faster than light" finding won't change THESE laws.

RE: re-use a thousand times?
By MattCoz on 10/2/2011 7:40:11 PM , Rating: 2
Seriously, read the article, everyone understands that this is a "goal" and not an existing and working design. They aren't "CURRENTLY" dumping it anywhere, because it doesn't exist yet.

RE: re-use a thousand times?
By mmatis on 10/3/2011 12:23:37 PM , Rating: 2
So you're trying to say that Falcon 9 is not currently launching?

Sounds a Lot...
By mmatis on 9/30/2011 6:26:19 PM , Rating: 2
like Roton's claims. But then what else is new? Note that most of the cost of launching rockets is the standing army needed to do so. There is a specific skill mix required that you do not usually find at your local Temporary Employment body shop. As a result, you end up with a Standing Army that must be paid, regardless of whether you launch any vehicles or not. And for a given size of the Standing Army, and a given launch vehicle design, there are only so many launches per year that you can do. After that, you have to add more bodies, largely in multiples of the original Standing Army.

The startups like SpaceX and Bigelow Aerospace save their money by cutting Quality Inspection and Engineering, and by buying non-space-qualified hardware. Which is all very fine until the hardware manufacturer changes one component of his product and it fails to work in a space environment. I would note that Scaled Composites has been promising commercial "spaceflight" for HOW LONG now? And they are VERY suborbital in their goals.

There is a REASON why they call it "rocket science"...

RE: Sounds a Lot...
By Ringold on 9/30/2011 9:54:12 PM , Rating: 2
The startups like SpaceX and Bigelow Aerospace save their money by cutting Quality Inspection and Engineering, and by buying non-space-qualified hardware.

So you're saying they dont spend a thousand bucks on a toilet seat, and incorporate industry best-practices in terms of efficient quality control, like the ultra-reliable airlines do? And they don't waste money by trying to have some sort of component of their business spread across as many political boundaries as possible to appease the masses?

Wow, that sounds awful! ...

RE: Sounds a Lot...
By Gondor on 10/1/2011 3:57:39 PM , Rating: 4
From Armageddon (movie):

"Rockhound: You know we're sitting on four million pounds of fuel, one nuclear weapon and a thing that has 270,000 moving parts built by the lowest bidder. Makes you feel good, doesn't it?"


RE: Sounds a Lot...
By mmatis on 10/1/2011 7:54:09 PM , Rating: 2
They are WELL SHORT of "...industry best-practices in terms of efficient quality control, like the ultra-reliable airlines do..."

First of all, it would be nice if you were intelligent enough to understand that the "...thousand bucks on a toilet seat..." was a DIRECT result of the way Congress insisted that they book their R&D costs. The contractor understood that was NOT realistic, but also understood that, if they FAILED to book costs that way, they would NOT get paid.

Secondly, I believe you will find that airlines have configuration control on their aircrafts' parts, including those supplied by outside contractors. When unqual'd parts enter the system, as they have several times in the past, the airlines shut down UNTIL THEY CAN VERIFY that NONE of those unqual'd parts are in use on critical systems. Bigelow was VERY proud of going down to Ace Hardware and buying a regulator for $50 instead of spending $5000 on a qualified part. The folly of doing that has been shown MANY times with catastrophic launch failures. But live and learn, I guess. I'll sit on my back patio with a cold drink and watch the nice fireworks shows.

By Bubbacub on 10/2/2011 8:18:50 AM , Rating: 1
Now I love space x.

i think the way they used nasa blueprints and a mixture of musks cash and nasa funding to make the falcon 9 rockets for an order of magnitude less than rocketdyne/boeing/lockheed would have charged is frankly amazing.

however this talk of making the falcon 9 re-usable in any meaningful form is utter utter bullshit.

its difficult enough to make the final stage (e.g. space shuttle or the orion capsule) re-useable. reusing a first stage is a complete non starter.

they are talking about re-using an empty unpowered 2-300 hundred ton object hurtling along at mach 5-6 (or whatever speed its going at separation) over a thousand miles away from the launch site at 4-5 miles of altitude.

this is a complete non-starter

if you start adding wings, fuel tanks and jets then your mass fraction takes a massive hit and the rocket has to become monstrously big to carry a smallish payload (i.e. the space shuttle).

to summarise

1: pulling spent stages out of sea water after they have had a supersonic impact with the ocean is not cost effective - look the SRBs - much cheaper to build a new one than try to re-use the spent segments (and that is all that is re-used - the APU, electronics, nose cone, ablatively cooled nozzle are all chucked).

2: making rocket stages that land back to base necessitates the building of huge rockets simply due to the rocket equation. and we all know that big rockets are expensive rockets.

3: the standing army that was required to service the shuttle has shown that trying to re-use complex big rockets is not cost effective

in short i would be very surprised if space x can get the falcon 9 re-usable in any form that makes financial sense.

By JediJeb on 10/3/2011 4:04:25 PM , Rating: 2
2: making rocket stages that land back to base necessitates the building of huge rockets simply due to the rocket equation. and we all know that big rockets are expensive rockets.

One answer to this problem is to have them land at another base down range. Launch from Central America or Florida, then land in Africa. Let gravity carry it most of the way then use the rockets to slow the decent and land. Load it onto a ship and bring it back to the starting point, or launch there on second launch and land back at first launch site, saves shipping costs.

Not sure what percentage of the Earth's circumference it takes to reach orbit but surely the launch and landing points can be coordinated so it doesn't need to return home in one shot.

You know this has already been thought up a long time ago. The movie and TV series "Salvage One" used this premise for their rocket.

By mmatis on 10/3/2011 4:59:02 PM , Rating: 2
You need to check your physics and your propulsion chemistry. Look up staging, and see where you will be with an efficiency that lets you actually carry payload to orbit. There are reasons why the Shuttle SRBs land where they do. They're the same reason the Saturn V stages landed where they did. Flyback is a nice concept, but there is a MAJOR payload penalty for doing it. Just like single-stage-to-orbit is a nice concept. But when the program shut down, VentureStar had a payload capability of -5000 lbs to orbit. And yes, that IS the right sign.

By Bubbacub on 10/4/2011 3:43:51 PM , Rating: 2
what if you are not launching in an equatorial orbit?

a lot of satellites are not in this plane - by fixing your first stage landing sites you fix your orbital inclination - which is incredibly restrictive.


Wrong math
By Dorkyman on 9/30/2011 12:42:26 PM , Rating: 2
Not "a quarter of 14 trillion," but rather "a quarter of a percent of 14 trillion."

RE: Wrong math
By AssBall on 9/30/2011 1:54:58 PM , Rating: 2
Thanks I was confused there too.

By AcornArmy on 9/30/2011 3:57:10 PM , Rating: 2
How is this news? Everyone wants to build a fully-reusable rocket. That's nothing new. It'll only be news if they actually manage to build it.

Ten percent pure fiction
By lightfoot on 9/30/2011 4:40:50 PM , Rating: 2
...solve the complexities that have stumped many before and even made an animation of how the plan could work, which is a 90 percent accurate depiction.

Isn't that a really nice way of saying that the animation could contain up to 10% pure fiction?

An average episode of Star Trek probably approaches 90% accurate depictions. Other than the whole space thing, the aliens, Kirk's fighting moves and the unbelievably short military miniskirts, Star Trek is a pretty accurate depiction of reality - perhaps even approaching 90%.

You can't fool me
By YashBudini on 9/30/2011 5:09:33 PM , Rating: 2
I recognize that first picture, that's R2D2.

By Phoque on 10/2/2011 9:56:26 AM , Rating: 2
The article says if we're 8 billion in 10-15 years, there would be at least 8000 people who could afford to go to Mars. I feel it would still take big balls to be willing to go there. Security issues and risks won't all be ironed out in 15 years. My balls would definitely be too small ;) and I wouldn't go unless it had been going on for a long time and had airplane proven track record of safety.

So I wouldn't count on Mars space tourism to finance their activities if only 8000 people on the planet can afford it, because many of them, used to the safety, luxury and comfort of the Earth, won't be interested at all. It's very interesting, but they can't rely on that business model yet.

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