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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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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.

"We shipped it on Saturday. Then on Sunday, we rested." -- Steve Jobs on the iPad launch

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