SpaceX plans to begin construction of a new rocket and spacecraft next year that could lead to human landings on Mars as early as 2024, scaling up technologies currently being perfected with the company’s Falcon 9 family of boosters to ensure reliability, reusability and, as a result, realistically low costs, founder Elon Musk said Friday.
Musk first unveiled his long-range plans for exploring and eventually colonizing Mars last year. On Friday, speaking at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, he provided an updated architecture featuring a single, somewhat smaller spacecraft and more important, he said, a viable way to fund the program.
“In last year’s presentation, we were really searching for how to pay for this thing. We went through various ideas, Kickstarter, you know, collecting underpants,” he joked. “These didn’t pan out. But now we think we’ve got a way to do it, which is to have a smaller vehicle — it’s still pretty big — but one that can do everything that’s needed.”
The idea, he continued, is to make SpaceX’s current fleet of Falcon 9 rockets, the yet-to-fly Falcon Heavy and its Dragon cargo/crew ships “redundant.”
“We want to have one system, one booster and ship that replaces Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and Dragon,” he said. “If we can do that, then all the resources that are used for Falcon 9 Heavy and Dragon can be applied to this system. That’s really fundamental.”
The new rocket is still known as the BFR, a euphemism for “Big (fill-in-the-blank) Rocket.”
The reusable BFR will use 31 Raptor engines burning densified, or super-cooled, liquid methane and liquid oxygen to lift 150 tons, or 300,000 pounds, to low-Earth orbit, roughly equivalent to NASA’s Saturn 5 moon rocket.
By comparison, a Falcon 9 can carry about 50,000 pounds to LEO while the Falcon Heavy will be able to manage about 141,000 pounds. The initial version of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, being readied for a maiden flight in 2019, will be able to boost about…