SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said that Mars could have a million-strong population within a century and will be served by a massive “colonial fleet” of interplanetary spaceships in a talk today where he unveiled his own plans to colonise the Red Planet.
Speaking at the International Astronautical Congress, Musk said that he would “make the biggest contribution I can to making our species multiplanetary”. He outlined SpaceX’s proposed Interplanetary Transport System, previously known as Raptor, which would allow people and cargo to transported to the planet on an unprecedented scale and has already been fully designed by SpaceX.
If the system is built – something he says could happen in a decade if “things go super well” – it would allow the Red Planet to be colonised, and, according to Musk, to develop into a vast settlement with “everything from iron foundries to pizza joints”.
“Over time there would be many space ships, ultimately up to a 1,000 ships in orbit, so the Mars colonial fleet would depart en-masse,” he said. “Kind of like Battlestar Galactica.”
Musk said that the Interplanetary Transport System would allow for a significant cut in the cost of getting to Mars because it would be fully reusable and refuel in orbit, with propellant produced on the Red Planet. He said that deep cryo methalox, a methane-based propellant, would be most suitable for the purpose.
“The first flights will be relatively expensive, but the architecture allows for $200,000,” he said. “We think that the cost of moving to Mars could ultimately drop below $100,000.”
Musk said that the ability to carry around 100 people plus cargo in each craft, would enable the colony to grow with every Mars rendezvous – a period every 26 months where the orbits of the respective planets are such that travel to the Red Planet is feasible.
“In the long term the ships will be even bigger than this. This will be relatively small compared to the mars interplanetary ships of the future,” he said.
“From the point at which the first person goes to Mars it’s probably 20 to 50 total Mars rendezvous, so it’s probably 40 to 100 years to build a self-sustaining civilisation on Mars.”
He said he thought that there would be no shortage of people wanting to move to the planet, suggesting that there may be greater opportunities there than here on Earth.
“Mars would have labour shortages for a long time, so jobs would not be in short supply.”
However, while Musk’s plans are ambitious, he was clear that this was a highly challenging project that would require multiple partners to achieve.
“Ultimately this is going to be a huge public-private partnership, and right now we’re just trying to make as much progress as we can with the resources we have available,” he said.
“As we show that this is possible, that this dream is real, I think the support will snowball over time.”
However, SpaceX does plan to get the ball rolling with its own development spaceship, which Musk says could begin tests in four years.