02Mar2019

Will SpaceX Really Fly People To Mars In 10 Years?

SpaceX’s President Gwynne Shotwell has said she is confident that the company will be launching people regularly to Mars in a decade.

SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk in 2002, are hoping to start taking people to Mars aboard a huge new rocket

In an interview with NPR’s Marketplace, Shotwell – who is also SpaceX’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) – said that 10 years “feels like an eternity”, and cited the rapid development of their other rockets as reason to believe it was possible.

“I think we will have a machine that certainly is capable of taking people to Mars and back in 10 years,” she said. “No programme we’ve worked on has taken 10 years.”

Shotwell highlighted the Falcon 9, which began development in 2006 and launched for the first time in 2010. Their Dragon capsule, meanwhile, was developed in a similar timeframe before it flew for the first time in 2010.

“We’ve only been in business for 16 years,” she continued. “And what have we done in 16 years? We’ve flown 65 times, flew Falcon Heavy, 16 missions to the International Space Station, and developed a crew capsule that we’re about ready to fly.”

SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk in 2002, are hoping to start taking people to Mars aboard a huge new rocket originally dubbed the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), but recently renamed Starship.

First unveiled by Musk in 2016, he planned to launch people to Mars by 2024 at the earliest. Like so many SpaceX-related timelines that has now been shifted back, with some major questions still remaining.

The company is developing the Starship vehicle to go to MarsSPACEX

The technical challenge is of course huge. Many have pointed out how difficult developing an uncrewed Mars mission is, let alone trying to take people there too. But the economic issue is also particularly tricky. If it happens, this endeavor will be in the multiple billions of dollars and then some. SpaceX will need to have some serious backing if they ever hope to do it.

“I am bullish on SpaceX’s prospects of doing this,” industry analyst Caleb Williams from consulting firm SpaceWorks told me. “From a technical perspective there are a number of challenges associated with doing this, [although] challenges they can resolve.

“Economic, I maybe am a little more worried. Their ability to fund this is going to be maybe more challenging than a technical hurdle.”

Still, Shotwell’s comments are a reminder of SpaceX’s overriding ambition. They may at times be somewhat too ambitious, but so far they have – for the most part – fulfilled their promises. And as Shotwell noted, you can underestimate them at your own peril.

She pointed out how, when the company was founded, it was paid little attention by some of its competitors. Now it’s the only company reusing its own orbital rockets, it has the most powerful modern rocket in the world, and it plans to start launching astronauts next year.

“We are the biggest private company doing this,” she said. “I think Boeing and Lockheed dismissed the competition that we could provide a decade or so ago. I think they thought we could never make it. They dismissed us, to their misfortune actually.”

Maybe Mars in 10 years might be a bit of a stretch. But at some point in future? Who knows. Source: Forbes

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