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SpaceX shrinks its rockets to lower costs; manned Mars mission planned for 2024

Image credit: reuters

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, has announced plans to miniaturise his company’s rocket ship in order to lower costs and give it next-generation capabilities that could be used to travel to the Moon, Mars or around the Earth.

SpaceX is planning to visit Mars in 2022 for the first time, carrying only cargo, to be followed by a manned mission in 2024, a full six years before the tentative 2030 mission to Mars date that former President Barack Obama set for the US last year.

Musk had previously planned to use a suite of space vehicles to support the colonisation of Mars, beginning with an unmanned capsule called Red Dragon in 2018, but he said SpaceX is now focused on a single, slimmer and shorter rocket instead.

“We want to make our current vehicles redundant,” Musk said at a conference in Adelaide. “We want to have one system. If we can do that, then all the resources can be applied to this system. I feel fairly confident that we can complete the ship and be ready for a launch in about five years.”

The rocket would be partially reusable and capable of flight directly from Earth to Mars, could still carry 100 passengers and could also be used for fast transport on Earth, Musk said.

The scaled-down rocket will also be used to launch satellites, take cargo to the International Space Station and even do lunar missions to set up a Moon base.

SpaceX plans for a Mars colony

Lockheed Martin have also announced separate plans for a manned Mars journey, unveiling concept drawings of a “base camp” space station orbiting Mars and landing craft that would carry four astronauts to the planet’s surface.

“We know its cold, it’s pretty inhospitable, so we start with the robots and then we go down with these landers,” said Rob Chambers, Lockheed’s director of human space flight strategy.

Chambers gave no date, but the planned mission would be a joint expedition with Nasa.

Mars is typically 225 million km from Earth and landing the first humans there, after what traditionally has been seen as a six to nine-month journey, is an extremely ambitious goal.

SpaceX, which Musk founded with the aim of colonizing Mars, is one of several private and government-funded ventures vying to put people and cargo on the red planet and other destinations beyond Earth’s orbit.

Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is also designing a heavy-lift vehicle called ‘New Armstrong’ that will be capable of Mars transport.

Russia and China are each preparing for manned missions to the moon and Russia has agreed to work with Nasa planning a “deep-space gateway” space station in lunar orbit, which would serve as a staging post for future missions.

In August, a SpaceX Dragon capsule was sent to the International Space Station carrying cargo including 20 mice, equipment for research, and ice cream. 

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