The goal is to make life multi-planetary.
At today’s International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Guadalajara, Mexico, SpaceX (and Tesla, and soon to be SolarCity) CEO Elon Musk announced his plans for building what has been dubbed the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS). And, as you can tell by the above video that demonstrates how the system will work, this is sci-fi on steroids—in real life!
Although SpaceX has already established itself as a revolutionary aerospace company by making reusable orbital class rockets that land on terra firma or drone ships in the middle of the ocean, the Interplanetary Transport System is what SpaceX has been aiming for all along: a transportation system that can take humans to Mars in order to establish a Martian colony.
Musk announced during his talk that the goal is to bring the price of space travel down 5,000,000%. He outlined several methods for achieving this extraordinary reduction in cost, including full reusability (which is being established with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets), refilling the ITS in orbit around Earth, producing the rocket propellant on Mars, and using the “right propellant.”
The plan right now is to take 100 people per flight of the ITS, although Musk noted that individual ships could probably take up to 200 people at a time in the future. He also said that it’s possible that there could be around 1,000 ITS ships in orbit around Earth at a time, so that they could leave for Mars en masse. (Musk noted the plan’s similarity to Battlestar Galactica.)
The ITS will utilize a launch system similar to the Falcon 9’s, in that a payload will be delivered to orbit by a reusable rocket booster stage. Except with the ITS, the payload being delivered to orbit will be a rocket that contains 100+ people rather than a satellite (what SpaceX currently launches into orbit). The ITS will also require that the reusable rocket booster fly back down to Earth then back into orbit several times in order to refuel the rocket that will eventually go to Mars.
According to a diagram displayed during the presentation, the ITS will be larger and significantly more powerful than the Saturn V, the rocket that was used to take astronauts to the Moon.
Ultimately, Musk said the goal is to develop a colony on Mars with around 1,000,000 inhabitants. He admitted that this kind of plan will require a huge amount of resources, and will have to be a public-private partnership (NASA is already one of SpaceX’s largest customers).
In very Tony Stark-fashion, Musk also said that the only reason he’s accumulating personal assets at all is to fund the ITS and to make life multi-planetary.
One of the more subtle, yet exciting details SpaceX added into their overview video of the ITS system is at the very end: note that Mars goes from being a red planet to something very Earth-like. Along with wanting to building an interplanetary transportation system and a Martian colony, Musk has also discussed plans for terraforming Mars.
That’s how Elon Musk would launch a rocket, but could the Flash do it by running?