Elon Musk Suggests a September Reveal Date for SpaceX’s Mars Plans

In 10 Years?

In 10 Years?

A pair of Elon Musk appearances conducted on opposite sides of the planet over the last few days have provided quite a bit of insight to the SpaceX founder’s short and long term plans, both for the company as well as for himself. As is so often the case, the long term vision is enthralling, even if the more immediate future is both more cautious, and peppered by caveats.


Speaking at the StartmeupHK festival in Hong Kong on January 26th, Musk stated that he hopes to reveal in September the details of the next generation architecture which would lead to a Mars landing in the 2020’s. The venue will be the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico which is being held from 9/26 to 9/30. It is not exactly clear whether he was referring to what has been called the MCT, or Mars Colonial Transporter, intended to convey approximately 100 people to the Red Planet at a time, or rather an intermediate step between the current Falcon/Dragon and MCT.

With an accompanying prediction, expressed actually as “hoping” for a 2025 first Mars landing, an intermediate step might seem to be more achievable given the assumed scale of the MCT, but until more details emerge, the rest is pure speculation. One thing is clear however. The successful return of the Falcon 9 first stage during the OG-2 launch, as well as Blue Origin’s two suborbital flights with its New Shepard have already swept away a great deal of the giggle factor which used to accompany bold predictions of a future on Mars. While the actual time frame may be quite a bit longer than what Musk is “hoping,” it may also be somewhat shorter than what NASA is “planning” with SLS and Orion, where 2040 would be considered highly optimistic. The critical fact to keep in mind is precisely that which Jeff Bezos pointed out following the New Shepard launch, reusable launch technology is highly scalable. Although the mind may have difficulty envisioning a rocket of the size required to launch 100 people to Mars, the engineering actually gets easier. Developing a sustainable business case remains the real challenge.

Regarding the current Dragon, Musk also stated that he would like to visit the International Space Station sometime over the next 4-5 years, a trip which would appear to be a distinct possibility given Dragon’s spare seat capacity and NASA’S increasing enthusiasm for marketing ISS.

The first order of business however, is developing the necessary flight tempo for the current Falcon 9 rocket, alternatively referred to as Falcon 9 Upgrade, Falcon 9 Full Power or Falcon 9 V 1.2. Following the successful maiden launch of the new Falcon booster on December 21st, SpaceX has yet to officially schedule the next flight, expected to be that of the SES-9 satellite, a fact that is apparently making other customers waiting in line a bit anxious. (January’s Jason-3 launch out of Vandenberg was carried out aboard the last Falcon 9 V1.2.)

While satellite operators are waiting on the chance to get their birds to space and start earning revenue, much of the general space community is waiting on a different launch, that of the first Falcon Heavy to inaugurate a new era in space access. Not surprisingly given other demands the company is facing, the Falcon Heavy demonstration launch, which was most recently predicted to take place in April or May, will now be later in the year.

Speaking at a Hyperloop Pod design competition hosted by Texas A&M University on Saturday, Musk said the FH flight would take place “toward the end of the year… maybe late summer.”

As for the competition itself, 22 out of 115 teams advanced to the next stage which will see them given the opportunity to test their pod designs on the Hyperloop Test Track being built adjacent to SpaceX’s Hawthorne, California’s headquarters.


Posted in: Mars, SpaceX

About the Author:

3 Comments on "Elon Musk Suggests a September Reveal Date for SpaceX’s Mars Plans"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Keith Pickering says:

    Should be:
    January’s Jason-3 launch out of Vandenberg was carried out aboard the last Falcon 9 V1.1.

  2. Keith Pickering says:

    The delay in the SES launch may be worrying. It’s speculation, but I’m wondering if the post-landing test of the Orbcomm first stage, in which it was reported that Engine #9 experienced thrust fluctuations, is the hold-up.

    Engine #9, the center engine, has four starts during the launch/landing sequence, plus the static fire test beforehand, and is the most-started engine on the rocket. If the cause of the thrust fluctuations are not obvious from the test data, they may be in the process of tearing down the engine to determine the cause. This likely wouldn’t be a mission-loss kind of failure, but it might very well be a booster-landing-loss issue, especially if trying to land at sea.

  3. Keith Pickering says:

    Also, if I recall correctly, one of the sea-landing failures earlier in 2015 was blamed on engine thrust fluctuations. So yeah, this might be a real issue.

Post a Comment