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The so-called Mars Vehicle will be the biggest American rocket ever built, edging out the Saturn V rockets used during the Apollo missions.
The vehicle will be composed of a giant reusable booster rocket that has 42 new Raptor engines (as opposed to the nine Merlin engines used in the Falcon Heavy), as well as a new “Interplanetary Spaceship”.
The latter will be capable of carrying 450 tons to Mars, with a “long-term goal of 100+ passengers” per ship.
However, refuelling will be an integral part of a Mars mission, SpaceX explained. So another Interplanetary Spaceship will be used for in-flight refuelling before the main spaceship pushes on to Mars.
Reusability and the ability to produce propellant on Mars will be key for SpaceX
The company says that once the first spaceship has landed on the Red Planet, it will be used for producing propellant for the return leg. It adds that this production facility will be expanded over time, allowing for “effectively unlimited” supplies of water and CO2 on Mars.
Reusability will be another key factor in these missions, with the private space firm targeting 1000 uses of the first stage rocket, 100 uses for the spaceship in tanker configuration and 12 uses for the crew-carrying spaceship.
“What I really want to try to achieve here, is to make Mars seem possible… make it seem as though it’s something we can do in our lifetimes,” Musk told attendees at the International Astronautical Congress.
“Really, the key is making this affordable to almost anyone who wants to go. And we think, based on this architecture… assuming optimisation over time, the architecture allows for a cost per ticket of less than US$200 000,” Musk explained, adding that it could go to roughly US$100 000.
SpaceX also mooted the possibility of using the spaceship to travel to Jupiter, Enceladus, Europa and Saturn.
Watch Musk’s presentation below (skip to 22 minute mark):