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Mars Attracts


By Martin Hickes

What is it about Elon Musk’s Space X project that might just be relaunching the interstellar hopes of us all?

Maybe it’s the fact that Mr Musk is bringing to life – finally – all the dreams that hundreds of 20th C youngsters had about what might happen when the calendar clicked over to the new century.

Since 1969, the moon- and Mars -  have seemed distant places; by now, many generations thought there should be moon bases fully operational

But apart from the ISS, humanity has moved into space at a stellar snail’s pace.

Never mind hover cars, many hoped of cut price moon shots  and space hotels – maybe some orbiting the moon by now.

And wasn’t  it just in the early 2000s that people were talking about a Martian landing by 2010?

Earthbound troubles have plagued funding in recent years but NASA is no longer the sole player.

A handful of private space industries now exist – Space X and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin being among them.

And for once, they are adding a rocket boost to hopes and aspirations of those who dreamed of a real, interstellar  space age existing  in the 21st C.

Musk’s dreams might seem like science fiction but they – as well as those of a handful of private space agencies -  are excitingly real.

Following Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 launches, the new Falcon Heavy recently proved to be a showstopper.

But they are nothing compared to the promised BFR which dwarves every rocket ever made by comparison – and hopes to spawn cargo and crew lifting versions to Mars by 2022 and 2024.

The BFR system is planned to replace both Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles, as well as the Dragon spacecraft, initially aiming at the Earth-orbit launch market, but adding substantial capability to support long-duration spaceflight.  

SpaceX intends this approach to bring significant cost savings which will help the company justify the development expense of designing and building the BFR system.

Tooling for the main tanks has been ordered and a facility to build the vehicles is under construction; construction of the first ship is scheduled to begin in the second quarter of 2018  with first suborbital flights planned for 2019.  The company publicly stated an aspirational goal for initial Mars-bound cargo flights of BFR launching as early as 2022, followed by the first crewed BFR flight in 2024

Space X also plans low earth trajectory flights to key cities in less than 30 mins.




The fully-reusable super-heavy-lift BFR will consist of a:

           "BFR booster": a reusable booster stage.

           a reusable, integrated second-stage-with-spaceship, which will be built in at least three versions:

           "BFR spaceship": a large, long-duration spaceship capable of carrying passengers or cargo to interplanetary destinations, to LEO, or between destinations on Earth.

           "BFR tanker": an Earth-orbit, cargo-only propellant tanker to support the refilling of propellants in orbit.

When on Mars, the rocket will deliver cargo via a crane winch and act as the first in a series of rockets to deliver modules for a habitable colonisation of Mars and/or the Moon.

NASA is also planning rocket shots to Mars though not by about 2033.

But it has been a long rocky road to Mars so far.

Timescales in space terms have long become moveable feasts; the Space Shuttle was going to be a late 70s launcher until it became an icon of the 80s. When Viking landed in 1976, many envisaged a Martian landing by 1999. Successive reviews and half-baked plans were made in the 80s and 90s but most seemed to lack both funding and belief.

In a major space policy speech at Kennedy Space Center on April 15, 2010, former U.S. President Barack Obama predicted a manned Mars mission to orbit the planet by the mid-2030s, followed by a landing. But the Constellation program was cancelled in favour of partnerships with private space agencies at reduced costs.

On October 8, 2015, NASA published its official plan for human exploration and colonization of Mars. The plan operates through three distinct phases leading up to fully sustained colonization.

The first stage, already underway, is the "Earth Reliant" phase. This phase continues using the International Space Station until 2024; validating deep space technologies and studying the effects of long duration space missions on the human body.

The second stage, "Proving Ground," moves away from Earth reliance and ventures into space for most of its tasks.

Finally, phase three is the transition to independence from Earth resources. The "Earth Independent" phase includes long term missions on the lunar surface with surface habitats that only require routine maintenance, and the harvesting of Martian resources for fuel, water, and building materials. NASA is still aiming for human missions to Mars in the 2030s, though Earth independence could take decades longer.

Japan, the European Space Agency, China and Russia also have plans for the Red Planet, though in the latter’s case not until the 2040s. Time will ultimately tell.

Not for the first time, humanity continues to stare at Mars and dream of a new home – and an exciting interstellar lifestyle.