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Thread: Elon will take us all to Mars...

  1. #1
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    Elon will take us all to Mars...

    ...i.e. 10'000 folks for a mere $5B in total: http://www.marssociety.org/home/pres...rssayselonmusk

    That moment may be closer than anyone thinks. Musk declared recently that he could put a human on Mars in 10 to 20 years' time. It is a remarkable claim, yet even more astonishingly Musk tells me that he could do it for $5 billion, and possibly as little as $2 billion - a snip when you consider that the International Space Station (ISS) has cost at least $100 billion to build and operate, or that $2 billion is roughly the cost of launching four space shuttle missions.

    Musk doesn't just want to stop at one human. In his Heinlein prize acceptance speech, he said he wants to put 10,000 people on Mars. Musk rarely makes public statements merely for effect but a call for 10,000 would-be Martians is extraordinary, even by his standards. When I query him on this point, he pauses. Is he reconsidering? Yes... but, as with so much else about Musk, not in a predictable way. "Ultimately we don't really want 10,000 people on Mars," he says, after letting the pause linger a few seconds more. "We want millions."
    Seriously, I believe that having a vision is fine, and I wish Elon luck, but I believe that he is overreaching here. And...

    Musk is eventually hoping to build this kind of reusability into SpaceX's newest launch vehicle, the Falcon Heavy. Scheduled for testing in early 2013, Falcon Heavy will be the largest rocket flown since NASA's Saturn V launched astronauts to the moon. Musk says that a reusable version of the rocket could deliver a payload of up to 15 tonnes to Mars at a cost of $100 to $200 per kilogram. That makes his $5 billion humans-to-Mars price tag seem realistic. Even so, the Falcon Heavy would need to be "heavier" still to carry the minimum 50-tonne payload needed for a Mars mission. But Musk, whose title at SpaceX is CEO and chief technology officer, is working on that too.
    15 tonnes to Mars at a cost of $100 to $200 per kilogram.... Uh.

    Since Ares V (130 tons to LEO) would throw 50 tons to Mars, then F9H (50 tons to LEO) should be able to throw 20 tons to Mars. Aerobraking at Mars incurs a 10-20% weight penalty (IIRC), so the 15-tons-to-Mars claim seems to pass the smell test. OTOH, since the payload to Mars is 1/3 of IMLEO (see above), then his actual price to Mars is 3x the LEO price. So even if he manages to get the LEO price down to $100/kg, then the price to Mars is $300/kg.

    But assuming that he can do that, I propose we discuss the (in)feasibility of Elon Direct. My immediate objections are:

    1. He would be sending stuff to Mars in 15 ton chunks. I wonder how much people, equipment and supplies can fit in 15 tons? How much would his Mars Transfer Vehicle weight? How many launches per opportunity are we talking about?
    2. I don't see how any return capacity could fit in here...

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    15 tons if he'd be using a direct surface-to-surface flight only, but an assembled-in-orbit modular MTV could be put together over multiple launches. That means a lot more tonnage per Mars trip. The 15 ton trips could send fuel, landers and other supplies ahead of the Marstronauts.

    Still, I agree that his timeline sounds overly optimistic, though I hope I'm wrong.
    I'm a cynical optimist. I think the only way out is through, but once we get through it'll be better. Very different, but better. Howard Tayler

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    Everything can't be done until someone does it.
    There is some hellish difficulties here; recycling waste back into consumables is still in its infancy as a technology, as is keeping everything running in an optimum state with no Progress to send for parts and spares, but I hope he can do this. Radiation protection isn’t exactly a small problem either; the list goes on.
    So many issues, but I want this to be done.
    I want us to expand as a species, to grow beyond this little world that has held us for so long.
    She is beautiful, a gem set in midnight, but I don’t want us to end here.
    Let’s go to Mars.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kamaz View Post
    ...i.e. 10'000 folks for a mere $5B in total:
    Uhm... That's not what it said. That's the price for one human.

    Although; he didn't say return, and he didn't say alive. So; what if it's cremated remains?

    I have issues with 2 statements.
    Scheduled for testing in early 2013, Falcon Heavy will be the largest rocket flown since NASA's Saturn V launched astronauts to the moon.
    If you go by payload, then it's a matter of whether you consider the shuttle orbiter part of the payload or not.
    If you go by weight, then it's not the largest.

    a snip when you consider that the International Space Station (ISS) has cost at least $100 billion to build and operate
    I don't consider that a valid comparison since the ISS was a large multinational construction project for a large research facility for long term use.

    Considering that most of that article is about the man and his company,and almost nothing about the future missions, I really don't take a lot of stock in what's being said there.

    As a point of comparison, does anyone have any numbers how much of the Apollo program was launch costs (including design and construction of Sat5) vs all the other hardware and costs involved?

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    ... a pound of frozen sperm and eggs plus a robot to build a womb factory.....

    Simple!!!

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    Quote Originally Posted by JustAFriend View Post
    ... a pound of frozen sperm and eggs plus a robot to build a womb factory.....

    Simple!!!
    I've actually heard something like that as a possibility for interstellar colonization.

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    Musk went a little... overboard with this. It will be fun reading NASASpaceFlight forums.

    Quote Originally Posted by kamaz View Post
    15 tonnes to Mars at a cost of $100 to $200 per kilogram....
    I think it is possible. Question is when. Not any time soon, for sure. We all will be probably dead by then, including Musk. What Musk realistically can do? Begin journey there. Nothing more and nothing less.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MaDeR View Post
    I think it is possible. Question is when. Not any time soon, for sure.
    Or never, if you don't factor in inflation.

    Today, they are saying $50M for a F9 launch which is about 10K kg to LEO. That's $5000/kg.
    So; even if F9 cost scales up to F9H by a factor of 3 (3 core), with a 50K kg payload to LEO, that shrinks it to about $3000/kg(I've seen estimates of $2200/kg), and we still need to go to escape velocity and drop the price by over a magnitude.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MaDeR View Post
    What Musk realistically can do?
    That's a very interesting question.

    For sure, he can send a payload past TMI. The size of this payload depends on booster size and upper spage propellant (kerolox or LH2). If his 50-ton kerolox rocket flies, then he automatically gets 15 tons to Mars. He can get more payload if he can get LH2 upper stage to work. Dragon weights 4.2 tons and takes 6 tons of payload, for a total of 10.2 tons. That's under 15 tons. So Dragon can be sent to Mars. The big question, of course, is whether he can land Dragon on Mars in one piece.

    On the other hand, if he managed to do that, he'd be the first private person to land something on Mars -- which, I believe, would earn him a place in history books. And it would have enormous propaganda PR value for his company. He might be very tempted to blow some money on that.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NEOWatcher View Post
    and we still need to go to escape velocity and drop the price by over a magnitude.
    I believe he is making two claims regarding economy. Claim 1 is that he can achieve about $1K per kg to LEO (i.e. a 10-fold reduction) by mass-producing Merlin engines. Claim 2 is that he can achieve another 10-fold reduction by reusing the first stage. These claims, combined, mean that he can get a kg of mass to LEO for $100. I am not completely sold on that; for one thing, reusing Merlins goes the opposite way then mass-producing them so he may end up reinventing the Shuttle (I hope not). On the other hand, I believe that both approaches, combined, could get us down to $1K per kg. As discussed above, price for a kg of payload past TMI would be price to LEO times 3.

    That's where this thinking breaks down, however. Because unless you are NASA and can build your own interplanetary spacecraft, Elon would need to propose something (i.e. Dragon) to use between TMI and Mars surface. The unit cost and payload of that something may become limiting here.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kamaz View Post
    Dragon weights 4.2 tons and takes 6 tons of payload, for a total of 10.2 tons. That's under 15 tons.
    (I just wanted to clarify that those are metric tons.)
    Aren't those numbers based on Dragon as equipped now for water landing? I'm sure something's got to give when they develop the landing system for it. Although; with close to 5 metric tons to work with, that might not be a problem.

    Quote Originally Posted by kamaz View Post
    I believe he is making two claims regarding economy.
    Those are interesting points which I'm also leery about.
    Although; there will be a small percentage of Merlins not being reused because they are in the upper stages, or will age.

    Quote Originally Posted by kamaz View Post
    That's where this thinking breaks down, however. Because unless you are NASA and can build your own interplanetary spacecraft, Elon would need to propose something (i.e. Dragon) to use between TMI and Mars surface. The unit cost and payload of that something may become limiting here.
    I agree. Something that can handle long term spaceflight needs to be developed and I doubt it will come cheap.

    I do wish him luck, and I'm sure he will bring costs down. I'm just dubious of the actual claims.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NEOWatcher View Post
    Or never, if you don't factor in inflation.
    Saying thing like "...it will cost in 21xx equivalent to purhasing power of 100$ in current year" is too mouthful. I think this kind of assumption (that we automatically factor in inflation and other economical thingies) is obvious, when we are deailng with claims like "in 21xx this milion-dollar (in 2012) service will cost barely 100$!".

    Without factoring in these things, this claim changes to "in 21xx this milion-dollar (in 2012) service will cost barely milion $!". Funny, if you think about it.

    Returning to topic: I do not understand why exactly Musk announces this kind of very unrealistic claims. Did it all got to his head? Or he is just yanking our (and especially his competitors) chains? I believe he can start it all, but he will not live to see people on Mars, not to mention retiring there.

    I could even give him human landing on Mars before his death, but sufficiently permament presence on Mars that would be (to boot) sufficiently friendly for old people (retire, remember)? No [beeep] way. Less chance than snowman surviving in hell.

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    Elon Musk says in an interview with BBC that he will take us to Mars for a mere $500K per seat: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-17439490

    "My vision is for a fully reusable rocket transport system between Earth and Mars that is able to re-fuel on Mars - this is very important - so you don't have to carry the return fuel when you go there," he said.

    "The whole system [must be] reusable - nothing is thrown away. That's very important because then you're just down to the cost of the propellant.

    "We will probably unveil the overall strategy later this year in a little more detail, but I'm quite confident that it could work and that ultimately we could offer a round trip to Mars that the average person could afford - let's say the average person after they've made some savings."

    The entrepreneur described this as about half a million dollars. He conceded the figure was unlikely to be the opening price - rather, the cost of a ticket on a mature system that had been operating for about a decade. Nonetheless, Musk thought such an offering could be introduced in 10 years at best, and 15 at worst.

    "Land on Mars, a round-trip ticket - half a million dollars. It can be done," he asserts.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kamaz View Post
    Elon Musk says in an interview with BBC that he will take us to Mars for a mere $500K per seat: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-17439490
    The key word in the article is also "eventually".

    He's still saying that F9H is going to break the $1k/lb barrier. We're not even seeing that yet.

    Can he do it? I hope so. But; I need to see some productivity from the company first. Right now I'm just chalking it up to promotional talk at this point.

    He's not even going to release any kind of plan for over a year. He has previously talked about using nuclear to get to Mars.

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    He cannot do it. He can start something that eventually will achieve it, but probably long after his death.

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    I am surprised so many people take his publicity speeches seriously.

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    Well, if he worked with LH2--and did it well--then I'd take him seriously. If he had clustered some Falcon 9 stump stages to look like a Saturn I-B, with a wide space above for an LH2 upper stage--NASA would have paid him much more notice. As it was, its conventional shape tells me that it was meant as an EELV killer.

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    Given that an average person masses about 75 kg, that $500,000 is about $6500/kg. Current launch costs to LEO are about $4000/kg, and it seems that 1 kg to Mars would cost about the same as 3 kg to LEO, so it may be possible to put a person on a trajectory to Mars, without life support, inflight navigation, or tracking.

    To get a person to Mars, alive, and in a condition to actually do something for the price Musk is quoting would require several tens of billions of dollars in R&D.
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    Sadly. He didn't want to go the Sea Dragon route. After being forced off Vandenburg over 'range safety' concerns, I can't really blame him. He spent a lot of money on logistics that he wasn't counting on spending, and that hurt him being forced to launch off an island.

    Sea Dragon would be perfect for Russia. They are sick of having to rent their own spaceport from Kazakhs, and their shipyards are hurting. With Sea Dragon, every ruble spent on space is one that would also go to shipyards and stay in-country.

    Now what with all the salt-water, I wouldn't place anything with complex electronics on it--but it would make for a great propellant booster, with sea water broken down not by a carrier as per Truax, but with their Arktika dual-reactor icebreakers and the Sea Launch Command and Control Ship. This would carry all the propellant up and mate with an SLS spacecraft, with China's HLV launching rovers on backshells. With Sea Dragon, you might even make cyclers.

    Musks craft would be great fast taxis to dock with substantial assets already en route to Mars.

  20. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by Winner View Post
    I am surprised so many people take his publicity speeches seriously.
    Its because they want them to be true. And I'm worried that he's doing more harm than good by making them. We were promised that the shuttles would be capable of doing all kinds of things, then when they failed to perform as promised, the muckeaters began clamoring to kill the manned program entirely.

    Space X has some good will, since they're the "plucky upstart," but that's not going to last too much longer, IMHO. The delays they've experienced (unsurprising in a new enterprise) are going to start eroding the confidence in many folks that it can be done at all and no doubt some future President will pull a "even though we're giving up, we still won" claim, ala the Soviets after the US beat them to the Moon, and we'll see the manned program killed (including all the contracts which the private sector folks need to keep them going until they can turn a profit), followed shortly by the unmanned program.

    I hope that's not how it plays out, but until a President is willing to give NASA a significant increase in its budget, I'm not optimistic.

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    Quote Originally Posted by publiusr View Post
    but with their [Russian] Arktika dual-reactor icebreakers and the Sea Launch Command and Control Ship. This would carry all the propellant up and mate with an SLS spacecraft, with China's HLV launching rovers on backshells. With Sea Dragon, you might even make cyclers.

    Musks craft would be great fast taxis to dock with substantial assets already en route to Mars.
    I am afraid that this level of international cooperation is even more sci-fi than Musk landing himself on Mars and returning.

    Sadly.

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    It depends on who is doing the selling. Often, the most important key to getting a project done is getting the right people in the same room together. The Russians resent spending money to rent their own spaceport from Kazakhs. Shipyard workers resent having money spent on space. Sea Dragon solves both problems.

    Besides, if Russian shipyard workers are occupied by building Sea Dragon--then they won't be making ballistic missile subs.

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    Quote Originally Posted by publiusr View Post
    It depends on who is doing the selling. Often, the most important key to getting a project done is getting the right people in the same room together. The Russians resent spending money to rent their own spaceport from Kazakhs. Shipyard workers resent having money spent on space. Sea Dragon solves both problems.

    Besides, if Russian shipyard workers are occupied by building Sea Dragon--then they won't be making ballistic missile subs.
    I think there's more than one shipyard in Russia. Keep the workers busy building Sea Dragon at one yard, the Russian economy is bigger, and they can pay the workers at another yard to build the ballistic missile submarines.
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    There is that too, or they might abandon the sub if sea dragon works out--starting another space race.

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