Elon Musk reveals how he plans to get to Mars

Elon Musk reveals how he plans to get to Mars

SpaceX boss Elon Musk has revealed he's only in business so he can raise the money to get us to Mars.

On Wednesday morning (NZ time) he unveiled the SpaceX Interplanetary Transport System, and discussed the technical challenges humanity faces in establishing a colony on the red planet and becoming a "multi-planetary species".

"I want to make Mars seem possible," he told the crowd in Guadalajara, Mexico, ahead of an astronautical conference. "The main reason I'm personally accumulating assets is to fund this."

In a clip uploaded to SpaceX's YouTube channel, the company shows how the system works.

First, a two-stage rocket 122m tall takes off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The 17m-wide manned part of the rocket soon ditches the 12m booster, which returns to Earth, landing right back on the launchpad.

While up to 100 Martian colonists wait in orbit, a new fuel tank is attached to the booster. It returns to space, where it meets and refuels the manned stage.

The rocket then splits again, the empty fuel tank returning to Earth to be reused.

Each flight to Mars will need between three and five tanks' worth of fuel. They're loaded separately in orbit as taking it up all at once would make it difficult to escape Earth's gravitational pull.

The manned stage then begins its journey to Mars, coasting at 100,800km/h. It will take between 80 and 150 days to get there, depending on where the planets are at the time of launch - but Mr Musk promises it'll be a "fun" trip, with zero-gravity games, movies and a restaurant on board.

Upon entering the Martian atmosphere, the ship has to withstand temperatures up to 1700degC, before landing upright. In the video, astronauts open the doors and set their eyes on the Martian surface.

The clip concludes with a time-lapse showing Mars in its entirety being slowly terraformed, with forests, oceans and clouds appearing. Though this would probably take centuries, Mr Musk says it would only take between 40 and 100 years to build a self-sustaining civilization of 1 million people.

"Early Mars was a lot like Earth," Mr Musk said on Wednesday.

"As we show that this is possible, that this dream is real, I think the support will snowball over time."

He wants SpaceX's first Mars mission to take off in 2024, ahead of NASA's planned missions in the 2030s. But he's a little wary of buying a ticket himself.

"I'd definitely like to go to orbit and visit the space station, and go to Mars," he told the crowd, "but I've got to make sure that if something goes wrong on the flights and I die that there's a succession plan... and the company doesn't get taken over by investors who want to make a profit and not go to Mars."

The Interplanetary Transport System was originally called the Mars Colonial Transporter, but Mr Musk renamed it after realising his team had built something that could "go well beyond Mars".

For now though, he's not proposing a manned trip to anywhere beyond the red planet - but did show off pictures of the Interplanetary Transport System on Europa and Enceladus, moons orbiting gas giants Jupiter and Saturn.

Wednesday's reveal comes after Mr Musk previewed a part of the Interplanetary Transport System at the weekend, showing off the immense power of the Raptor engine.

New Zealand's own space company Rocketlab is watching on with interest.

Founder Peter Beck says the SpaceX plan is very ambitious and exciting, but doesn't see Mr Musk as a competitor.

"I have a fundamental policy that I won't fly meat, so that's the main difference between Elon and Rocketlab. Elon is going to change humanity by taking people to Mars, we are going to change humanity by commercialising space.

"It's a very different business model. Elon is doing everything to get to Mars, we are doing everything to get small satellites in orbit, so it's quite a different business proposition."