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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 9/30/2011 12:35:23 PM , Rating: 0
fuel and oxygen for one launch only costs $200,000 . So if the rocket can be reused, he said, around 1,000 times, the cost of the rocket per launch would only be approximately $50,000 .

If fuel truly costs $200,000 per launch, how does multiple launches make the fuel that much cheaper? that would be some seriously impressive economies of scale if it could truly reduce the cost to 1/4.

of course though, that is ignoring all the other overhead costs, but still.

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.

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