(ORDO NEWS) — Despite the fact that SpaceX is preparing for the first launch of astronauts, the company shares its dreams about human space flight on a much wider scale: missions to Mars.
SpaceX’s desire to send humans to Mars is not new; The company was founded for this purpose. But now the company is testing early versions of the spacecraft that it plans to use on such trips, evaluating potential landing sites and considering what a long-term base on the Red Planet might look like after many years.
“In terms of the vision we’re moving towards, it actually allows us to create cities on Mars and everything connected with the city, with a large and growing population,” said Paul Wooster, chief engineer for Mars development at SpaceX, May 20 during a meeting of the space research committee, which was dedicated to manned flights to Mars.
“This is obviously a very important effort, which will take many years, even decades,” he said. But the company is targeting a characteristically ambitious schedule, possibly 2022, for the first mission without a crew to Mars, Worcester said.
The vehicle that the company sees as the workhorse for such a flight is Starship, equipped with an ultra-powerful accelerator. It is still under development, and SpaceX is conducting early tests on a number of Starship prototypes at its Texas base. None of these prototypes have yet to leave the earth.
Although Worcester said that Super Heavy will be essentially a larger version of the reusable boosters used on the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, prototypes of such a powerful accelerator have not yet been tested.
However, Worcester said, SpaceX hopes that we will do everything fast enough so that the company can consider launching the first test missions without a crew on Mars during 2022. Mars successfully aligns with the Earth every 26 months.
Whatever the time frame of the SpaceX program to Mars, the company says this: flights to Mars will depend on fuel depots located in low Earth orbit. The superheavy booster rocket will launch a separate Martian Starship into low Earth orbit, where it will meet with the previously launched Starship, full of fuel, for refueling.
Starship will then head towards Mars until it eventually lands vertically. SpaceX plans to launch two or more Starship cargo during the first window to Mars.
If this initial batch of flights went smoothly, a Starship with crew could follow, accompanied by more cargo ships. According to Worcester, despite the fact that Starship can accommodate 100 people, but in the first stage, the crew will probably consist of a much smaller number of astronauts to leave more space for the cargo needed to create a camp on the Red Planet. SpaceX hopes to shorten the journey to Mars to six months — perhaps even four — to reduce the harm from radiation that humans will experience during the journey.
When missions with the crew arrive to the surface, the primary task will be the exploration and processing of local reserves. According to Worcester, Starship is designed to work on liquid methane-oxygen fuel, partly because of the low cost of these ingredients on Earth, and also because scientists believe that they can be produced on Mars. One of the first tasks for Starship missions will be mapping the availability of raw materials for this fuel so that people have a way to return home – to Earth.
Resources also determine where the company wants to land. According to Worcester, SpaceX is focused on two potential objects: one next to Arcadia Planitia and Erebus Montes, and the other to Phlegra Montes. Both meet some key criteria: they are in the middle lane of the planet, where it is easier to land, and they are at lower altitudes, so a denser atmosphere will do most of the work to slow the spacecraft during landing.
And, of course, there seems to be a lot of ice nearby. “We are very focused on identifying the landing site in areas where there is a lot of water ice,” Worcester said. “This is a very important resource.”
There will be basic infrastructure next, such as landing sites, habitats, power generation systems, radiation shelters and greenhouses, Worcester said, although he emphasized that SpaceX is focused on transporting and transferring the development of other parts of the mission to other organizations.
As soon as the final site is chosen and the missions begin, Worcester said, SpaceX could be in a difficult situation because of its training ground near Boca Chica in South Texas. Residents who lived in the beach community long before the company SpaceX came to this city, reject offers to buy their land.
This place was very undeveloped when we came here, ”Worcester said,“ it is similar to the place we will see on Mars from the point of view of the need to create infrastructure, although, obviously, it is much simpler on Earth in terms of air availability and the like.
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