Mars Colonial Transporter
|Mission type||Interplanetary technology, reconnaissance, settlement|
|Payload mass||100 tonnes landed on Mars (planned) |
|Start of mission|
Mars Colonial Transporter (MCT) is the name of the privately funded development project by U.S. company SpaceX to design and build a spaceflight system of reusable rocket engines, launch vehicles and space capsules to transport humans to Mars and return to Earth.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has stated at least since 2007 the personal goal of eventually enabling human exploration and settlement of Mars. He stated in a 2011 interview that he hoped to send humans to Mars' surface within 10–20 years. By late 2012, Musk stated that he envisions a Mars colony of tens of thousands with the first colonists arriving no earlier than the middle of the 2020s.
In November 2012, Musk stated plans 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. This new vehicle will 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. In June 2013, Musk stated that he intends to hold off any potential IPO of SpaceX shares on the stock market until after the "Mars Colonial Transporter is flying regularly."
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. 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." The large rocket core that will be used for the booster to be used with MCT will be 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.
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 would be "deep into the future".
In January 2015, Musk said that he hoped to release details of the "completely new architecture" for the Mars transport system in late 2015.
Mars injection orbit spacecraft
Mars Colonial Transporter has been notionally described as a large interplanetary spacecraft capable of taking 100 people at a time to Mars, although early flights are expected to carry fewer people and more equipment. It may use a large water store to help shield occupants from space radiation and have a cabin oxygen content that is up to two times that which is found in Earth's atmosphere.
The Mars colony envisioned by Musk would start small, with an initial group of fewer than ten people. With time, Musk sees 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.’"
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]."
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. 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.
According to Elon Musk, the MCT would effectively become the first human habitat on Mars.
Super-heavy lift launch vehicle
The super-heavy lift launch vehicle for MCT will lift the 100 tonnes (220,000 lb)+ payload of the MCT into orbit and is intended to be fully-reusable. The rocket has not yet been named by SpaceX. The MCT launch vehicle will be powered by the Raptor bipropellant liquid rocket engine. 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. 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 and further confirmed by Musk in early 2015.
Initial information indicated liftoff thrust would be approximately 62 or 190 MN (6,300 or 19,000 tonnes-force) (formerly roughly sized at greater than 40 or 120 meganewtons (9,000,000 or 27,000,000 lbf)) of thrust based on the assumption of 9 Raptor engines per rocket core). 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.
Competition for the American heavy-lift market
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) from Earth. 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."
As of March 2014[update], no launch site has been selected for the super-heavy lift rocket and Mars Colonial Transporter, but SpaceX has indicated that their leased facility in Florida at Launch Pad 39A is not large enough to accommodate the vehicle, and that a new site would be built in order to launch the >10-meter diameter rocket.
In September 2014, Elon Musk indicated that the first person to go to another planet could launch from the SpaceX South Texas spaceport, but did not indicate what launch vehicle might be used to carry humans to orbit.
- Atmosphere of Mars
- The Case for Mars
- Colonization of Mars
- Effect of spaceflight on the human body
- Health threat from cosmic rays
- Human outpost
- Human spaceflight
- In-situ resource utilization
- Life on Mars
- List of manned Mars mission plans in the 20th century
- Human mission to Mars
- Mars Direct
- Mars to Stay
- Sea Dragon (rocket)
- Space medicine
- Terraforming of Mars
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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.
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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.
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would have to throw a bunch of stuff before you start putting people there. ... It is a transportation system between Earth and Mars.
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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.
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