The Rocket Would Save Millions of Dollars And Be Reusable
Elon Musk, the billionaire founder and CEO of the private spaceflight company SpaceX, wants to help establish a Mars colony of up to 80,000 people by ferrying explorers to the Red Planet for perhaps $500,000 a trip.
Musk's idea of establishing a permanent base on Mars gained some traction today with the SpaceX mission that is currently under project to build shuttles -- landers -- and housing units for an eventual trip to the red planet.
"The reason SpaceX was created was to accelerate development of rocket technology, all for the goal of establishing a self-sustaining, permanent base on Mars," Musk told an audience here after receiving the Robert A. Heinlein Memorial Award during the 33rd annual International Space Development Conference on Friday (May 16). "And I think we're making some progress in that direction — not as fast as I'd like."
The SpaceX reusable rocket was successfully test launched on April 18th, and also successfully delivered cargo to the international space station -- afterwards safely landed in the ocean on its way back from outer space before being torn up by rough ocean waves.
"We're close to at least recovering and reusing the first stage," Musk said. "I think that if we can demonstrate recovery and reuse of the first stage, that will be really something."
Despite rough weather in the Atlantic Ocean during the test on April 18, SpaceX still managed to land the "boost stage" of its landing leg-outfitted Falcon 9 rocket upright in the water. While stormy seas later destroyed the stage, Musk counts the reusable rocket test as a milestone for the company. Originally, SpaceX representatives gave the ambitious plan a less than 50 percent chance of success.
"No one has ever soft landed a liquid rocket boost stage before, and I think this bodes very well for achieving reusability," Musk said during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. "What SpaceX has done so far is evolutionary, but not revolutionary, and I think if we can recover the stage intact and re-launch it, the potential is there for a truly revolutionary impact in space transport costs."
The private space flight company has set in motion a project to create reusable rockets that can be picked up after they deliver cargo or complete flight missions into space.
Propellant itself is only about 0.3 percent of the cost of an approximately $60 million mission, Musk said. If organizations can re-use rockets, it could potentially lead to a 100-fold improvement in cost, he added.
"I think that's the system that, at least according to my calculations, will enable someone to move to Mars for about half a million dollars," Musk said.