Mars Colonial Transporter

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Mars Colonial Transporter
Mission type Interplanetary technology, reconnaissance, settlement
Operator SpaceX
Spacecraft properties
Manufacturer SpaceX
Payload mass 100 tonnes landed on Mars (planned) [1]
Start of mission
Launch date 2022 (planned) [2]
Contractor SpaceX
Manned lander

Mars Colonial Transporter (MCT) is the U.S. company SpaceX's name for its privately funded development project to design and build a spaceflight system[3] of reusable rocket engines, launch vehicles and space capsules to transport humans to Mars and return to Earth.

SpaceX began development of the large Raptor rocket engine for the Mars Colonial Transporter before 2014. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk intends to unveil details of the space mission architecture at the International Astronautical Congress 26-30 September 2016.[4] As of June 2016, company plans include the first MCT Mars flight launching in 2022, followed by the first MCT Mars flight with passengers in 2024.[2]


As early as 2007, Elon Musk stated a personal goal of eventually enabling human exploration and settlement of Mars.[5][6] Bits of additional information about the mission architecture were released in 2011–2015, including a 2014 statement that initial colonists would arrive at Mars no earlier than the middle of the 2020s.[7] Company plans as of mid-2016 continue to call for the arrival of the first humans on Mars no earlier than 2025.[2]

Musk stated in a 2011 interview that he hoped to send humans to Mars' surface within 10–20 years,[6] and in late 2012 he stated that he envisioned a Mars colony of tens of thousands with the first colonists arriving no earlier than the middle of the 2020s.[7][8][9]

In October 2012, Musk articulated a high-level plan to build a second reusable rocket system with capabilities substantially beyond the Falcon 9/Falcon Heavy launch vehicles on which SpaceX had by then spent several billion US dollars.[10] This new vehicle was to be "an evolution of SpaceX's Falcon 9 booster ... much bigger [than Falcon 9]." But Musk indicated that SpaceX would not be speaking publicly about it until 2013.[11][7] In June 2013, Musk stated that he intended to hold off any potential IPO of SpaceX shares on the stock market until after the "Mars Colonial Transporter is flying regularly."[12][13]

In February 2014, Musk stated that Mars Colonial Transporter will be "100 times the size of an SUV", and capable of taking 100 people at a time to Mars.[14] Also, SpaceX engine development head Tom Mueller said SpaceX would use nine Raptor engines on a single rocket, similar to the use of nine Merlin engines on each Falcon 9 booster core. He said "It's going to put over 100 tons of cargo on Mars."[14] In early 2014, it appeared that the large rocket core that would be used for the booster to be used with MCT would be at least 10 meters (33 ft) in diameter, nearly three times the diameter and over seven times the cross-sectional area of the Falcon 9 booster cores.[3]

In August 2014, media sources speculated that the initial flight test of the Raptor-driven super-heavy launch vehicle could occur as early as 2020, in order to fully test the engines under orbital spaceflight conditions; however, any colonization effort was reported to continue to be "deep into the future".[15][16]

In January 2015, Musk said that he hoped to release details of the "completely new architecture" for the Mars transport system in late 2015 but those plans changed and, by December 2015, the plan to publicly release additional specifics had moved to 2016.[17] In January 2016, Musk indicated that he hoped to describe the architecture for the Mars missions with the next generation SpaceX rocket and spacecraft later in 2016, at the International Astronautical Congress conference,[4] which is scheduled for September 2016.[18][19] Musk stated in June 2016 that the first unmanned MCT Mars flight was planned for departure in 2022, to be followed by the first manned MCT Mars flight departing in 2024.[2]


Mars Colonial Transporter has been proposed as a combination of two elements: a large interplanetary spacecraft capable of carrying passengers and cargo, propelled out of low Earth orbit by a new super-heavy lift launch vehicle.[17]

Mars injection orbit spacecraft[edit]

The interplanetary spacecraft has been notionally described as capable of transporting 100 people at a time to Mars,[14] although early flights are expected to carry fewer people and mostly equipment.[7] It may use a large internal water layer to help shield occupants from space radiation, and may have a cabin oxygen content that is up to two times that which is found in Earth's atmosphere.[7]

The spacecraft has been informally dubbed the BFS (for Big Fucking Spaceship) by Musk, corresponding to the "BFR" name he applied to its launch vehicle.[17]

According to Elon Musk, the MCT would effectively become the first human habitat on Mars.[20]

Super-heavy lift launch vehicle[edit]

Comparison of rocket cores for SpaceX launch vehicles: (from left) Falcon 9 v1.0 (2010), Falcon 9 v1.1 (2013), and an April 2014 version of a proposed 10-meter diameter, 9-Raptor, first-stage booster core for the Mars Colonial Transporter.

The super-heavy lift launch vehicle[21] for MCT will lift the 100 tonnes (220,000 lb)+ payload of the MCT into Mars orbit and is intended to be fully-reusable.[16][22]

The rocket has not yet been given a formal name by SpaceX, although it is known informally as the BFR (for Big Fucking Rocket), a name coined by Musk personally. According to Musk, the name is a reference to the BFG 9000 from the 1993 video game Doom.[17][23]

The MCT launch vehicle will be powered by the Raptor bipropellant liquid rocket engine.[21] Details on the overall architecture of the launch vehicle however remain proprietary, while what little information has been made public has varied over time.

Early plans for the MCT launch vehicle, made public in April 2014, consisted of one or three cores with a 10-meter (33 ft) diameter which is comparable to the Saturn V. At the time, the rocket was slated to use nine Raptor LOX/methane engines to power each core.[14][3] The possibility of eliminating any tri-core version design, and modifying the MCT launch vehicle design to a single-core but larger-diameter vehicle—12.5 to 15 meters (41 to 49 ft) core diameter—was raised in late 2014[16] and further confirmed by Musk in early 2015.[22]

All sources have indicated that the MCT launch vehicle is intended to be reusable—making use of the SpaceX reusable technology that is currently being developed for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy[3]

Initial information indicated liftoff thrust would be approximately 62 or 190 MN (6,300 or 19,000 tonnes-force)[24] (formerly roughly sized at greater than 40 or 120 meganewtons (9,000,000 or 27,000,000 lbf)[14]) of thrust based on the assumption of 9 Raptor engines per rocket core).[3] Later information has indicated that the total thrust of the MCT launch vehicle is not fully pinned down.

There may be more than one design in a family of SpaceX super-heavy lift launch vehicles.[16]

Competition for the American heavy-lift market[edit]

In August 2014, media sources noted that the US launch market may have two competitive launch vehicles available in the 2020s to launch payloads of 100 metric tons (220,000 lb) or more to low Earth orbit. The US government is currently developing the Space Launch System, a heavy-lift launch vehicle for lifting very large payloads of 70 to 130 tonnes (150,000 to 290,000 lb) to low Earth orbit. While SpaceX has played down the competitive aspect with SLS, if SpaceX makes progress on its super-heavy launch vehicle in "the coming years, it is almost unavoidable that America's two HLVs will attract comparisons and a healthy debate, potentially at the political level."[16][25]

Mission concept[edit]

The Mars colony envisioned by Musk would start small, with an initial group of fewer than ten people. With time, Musk hopes that such an outpost could grow into something much larger and become self-sustaining, at least 1 million people. According to Musk, "even at a million people you’re assuming an incredible amount of productivity per person, because you would need to recreate the entire industrial base on Mars. You would need to mine and refine all of these different materials, in a much more difficult environment than Earth. There would be no trees growing. There would be no oxygen or nitrogen that are just there. No oil. ‘Excluding organic growth, if you could take 100 people at a time, you would need 10,000 trips to get to a million people,’ he said. ‘But you would also need a lot of cargo to support those people. In fact, your cargo to person ratio is going to be quite high. It would probably be 10 cargo trips for every human trip, so more like 100,000 trips. And we’re talking 100,000 trips of a giant spaceship.’"[26]

Musk has stated that an aspirational price goal for such a trip might be on the order of US$500,000, something that "most people in advanced countries, in their mid-forties or something like that, could put together [to make the trip]."[7]

Before any people are transported to Mars, a number of cargo missions would be undertaken first in order to transport the requisite equipment, habitats and supplies.[27] Equipment that would accompany the early groups would include "machines to produce fertilizer, methane and oxygen from Mars' atmospheric nitrogen and carbon dioxide and the planet's subsurface water ice" as well as construction materials to build transparent domes for crop growth.[7]

Launch facility[edit]

As of March 2014, no launch site had been selected for the super-heavy lift rocket and Mars Colonial Transporter, but SpaceX did indicate that their leased facility in Florida at Launch Pad 39A would not be large enough to accommodate the vehicle, and that a new site would be built in order to launch the >10-meter diameter rocket.[23]

In September 2014, Elon Musk indicated that the first person to go to another planet could possibly launch from the SpaceX South Texas Launch Site,[28] but did not indicate what launch vehicle might be used to carry humans to orbit.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Musk, Elon. "I am Elon Musk, CEO/CTO of a rocket company, AMA!". Retrieved 2015-01-07. 
  2. ^ a b c d Davenport, Christian (2016-06-13). "Elon Musk provides new details on his ‘mind blowing’ mission to Mars". Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-06-14. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Belluscio, Alejandro G. (2014-03-07). "SpaceX advances drive for Mars rocket via Raptor power". Retrieved 2014-03-07. 
  4. ^ a b 2016 StartmeupHK Venture Forum - Elon Musk on Entrepreneurship and Innovation. StartmeupHK Venture Forum--2016. via InvestHK YouTube channel: Invest Hong Kong. 26 January 2016. Retrieved 28 January 2016. (SpaceX discussion at 30:15-31:40) We'll have the next generation rocket and spacecraft, beyond the Falcon and Dragon series ... I'm hoping to describe that architecture later this year at the International Astronautical Congress. which is the big international space event every year. ... first flights to Mars? we're hoping to do that in around 2025 ... nine years from now or thereabouts. 
  5. ^ Hoffman, Carl (2007-05-22). "Elon Musk Is Betting His Fortune on a Mission Beyond Earth's Orbit". Wired Magazine. Retrieved 2014-03-14. 
  6. ^ a b "Elon Musk: I'll Put a Man on Mars in 10 Years". Market Watch (New York: The Wall Street Journal). 2011-04-22. Archived from the original on 2011-12-01. Retrieved 2011-12-01. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g "Huge Mars Colony Eyed by SpaceX Founder". Discovery News. 2012-12-13. Retrieved 2014-03-14. 
  8. ^ Carroll, Rory (2013-07-17). "Elon Musk's mission to Mars". TheGuardian. Retrieved 2014-02-05. 
  9. ^ Messier, Doug (2014-02-05). "Elon Musk Talks ISS Flights, Vladimir Putin and Mars". Parabolic Arc. 
  10. ^ Zach Rosenberg (15 Oct 2012). "SpaceX aims big with massive new rocket". Flight Global. Retrieved 2015-10-28. 
  11. ^ Coppinger, Rod (2012-11-23). "Huge Mars Colony Eyed by SpaceX Founder Elon Musk". Retrieved 2013-06-10. an evolution of SpaceX's Falcon 9 booster ... much bigger [than Falcon 9], but I don’t think we’re quite ready to state the payload. We’ll speak about that next year. ... Vertical landing is an extremely important breakthrough — extreme, rapid reusability. 
  12. ^ Schaefer, Steve (2013-06-06). "SpaceX IPO Cleared For Launch? Elon Musk Says Hold Your Horses". Forbes. Retrieved 2013-06-10. 
  13. ^ Ciaccia, Chris (2013-06-06). "SpaceX IPO: 'Possible in the Very Long Term'". The Street. Retrieved 2013-06-10. 
  14. ^ a b c d e Nellis, Stephen (2014-02-19). "SpaceX's propulsion chief elevates crowd in Santa Barbara". Pacific Coast Business Times. Retrieved 2014-02-20. 
  15. ^ Boyle, Alan (5 January 2015). "Coming Soon From SpaceX's Elon Musk: How to Move to Mars". NBC News. Retrieved 8 January 2015. The Mars transport system will be a completely new architecture. Am hoping to present that towards the end of this year. Good thing we didn't do it sooner, as we have learned a huge amount from Falcon and Dragon. 
  16. ^ a b c d e Bergin, Chris (2014-08-29). "Battle of the Heavyweight Rockets -- SLS could face Exploration Class rival". Retrieved 2014-08-30. 
  17. ^ a b c d Heath, Chris (December 12, 2015). "How Elon Musk Plans on Reinventing the World (and Mars)". GQ. Retrieved December 12, 2015. 
  18. ^, accessed 28 January 2016.
  19. ^ Boyle, Alan (2016-01-27). "SpaceX’s Elon Musk wants to go into space by 2021 and start Mars missions by 2025". GeekWire. Retrieved 2016-01-29. 
  20. ^ YouTube. Retrieved 27 January 2016. 
  21. ^ a b Bergin, Chris (2015-05-11). "Falcon Heavy enabler for Dragon solar system explorer". Retrieved 12 May 2015. 
  22. ^ a b "5 Things We Learned From Elon Musk's Reddit AMA". Popular Mechanics. 2015-01-06. Retrieved 22 June 2015. 
  23. ^ a b Gwynne Shotwell (2014-03-21). Broadcast 2212: Special Edition, interview with Gwynne Shotwell (audio file). The Space Show. Event occurs at 20:00–21:10 and 22:15–22:35. 2212. Archived from the original (mp3) on 2014-03-22. Retrieved 2014-03-22. 
  24. ^ Butler, Amy; Svitak, Amy. "AR1 vs. Raptor: New rocket program will likely pit kerosene against methane" (2014-06-09). Aviation Week & Space Technology. SpaceX is developing the Raptor as a reusable engine for a heavy-lift Mars vehicle, the first stage of which will feature 705 metric tons of thrust, making it 'slightly larger than the Apollo F-1 engine,' Tom Mueller, SpaceX vice president of propulsion development, said during a space propulsion conference last month in Cologne, Germany. The vacuum version is targeting 840 metric tons of thrust with 380 sec. of specific impulse. The company is testing subscale components using the E-2 test stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, says Stennis spokeswoman Rebecca Strecker. ... Mueller said many people ask why the company switch to methane for its Mars rocket. With reusability in mind, SpaceX's cost studies revealed that 'by far the most cost-effective propellant to use is methane,' he said, which would be easier than hydrogen to manufacture on Mars. 
  25. ^ "KSC meeting portrays SLS as scrambling for a manifest plan". 12 January 2016. Retrieved 14 January 2016. Also notable – though understandably not referenced at the KSC meeting – is SpaceX’s plan to have its BFR – a reusable booster with the power of two Saturn Vs – already up and running by the 2020s, ahead of MCT (Mars Colonial Transporter) missions. 
  26. ^ Ross Andersen (30 September 2014). "Elon Musk puts his case for a multi-planet civilisat...". Aeon. Retrieved 27 January 2016. 
  27. ^ Gwynne Shotwell (2014-03-21). Broadcast 2212: Special Edition, interview with Gwynne Shotwell (audio file). The Space Show. Event occurs at 29:45–30:40. 2212. Archived from the original (mp3) on 2014-03-22. Retrieved 2014-03-22. would have to throw a bunch of stuff before you start putting people there. ... It is a transportation system between Earth and Mars. 
  28. ^ Solomon, Dan (2014-09-23). "SpaceX Plans To Send People From Brownsville To Mars In Order To Save Mankind". TexasMonthly. Retrieved 2014-09-24.