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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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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.


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