Today, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said he hopes to finance his plans to colonize Mars by making SpaceX’s entire fleet of vehicles — the Falcon 9, the Falcon Heavy, and the Dragon spacecraft — obsolete.
Speaking at the International Astronautical Congress, Musk said that SpaceX will eventually start stockpiling these vehicles and then focus all of its resources into developing the company’s next monster vehicle: the Interplanetary Transport System, codenamed the BFR (for Big Fucking Rocket).
The ITS would be capable of sending stuff to low Earth orbit like the company’s Falcon 9 is today, but be scaled up to go the moon or Mars. (Oh, and SpaceX could use the tech to for city-to-city rocket travel here on Earth.)
The former is really interesting. Vice President Mike Pence, who has revived the National Space Council, is widely assumed to push NASA to focus on lunar missions before a trip to the Red Planet. SpaceX enjoys a large NASA contract now, and wants to be in place as a provider for moon missions for the US government, not to other nations and private-sector companies.
Of course, Musk’s ultimate goal is still Mars, and he’s still making incredibly optimistic predictions about when the company is going to get there. Last year, Musk claimed the first crews would start flying to the Red Planet as early as 2024. This year, he said the first two cargo ITS ships will launch to Mars in 2022. That’s just five years to create an entirely new rocket, send it to another planet, and land it on the surface intact. If it does land successfully, it’ll be the heaviest vehicle to ever make it to the Martian surface in one piece. (The most we’ve ever landed on Mars has weighed about 2,000 pounds, but the ITS can supposedly land between 20 to 50 tons.)
As always with Musk, these timelines are unrealistic, if not downright silly. That aside, SpaceX is clearly thinking beyond low Earth orbit, and that’s probably wise, as NASA is as well.