The Moon is Getting Closer
The first piloted flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon astronaut taxi is likely just a few months away, now that a critical safety test is in the rearview mirror.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule aced an in-flight abort test Sunday morning (Jan. 19), successfully jetting away from its Falcon 9 rocket less than 90 seconds after liftoff and ultimately splashing down softly under parachutes in the Atlantic Ocean, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) off the Florida coast.
The uncrewed test demonstrated the spacecraft’s ability to keep astronauts safe in the event of a launch emergency, marking a big step on the path toward crewed flight. __ https://www.space.com/spacex-crew-dragon-astronaut-launch-by-spring-2020.html
Meanwhile development is moving forward for the larger and more powerful SpaceX “Starship.” As described at Brian Wang’s Nextbigfuture.com, the Starship is being primed to provide a very affordable ferry service between Earth and the moon.
SpaceX could price moon missions with a fixed cost of $100 million. This price would cover loss of the rocket one out of every three landings. Moon missions would become safer and more reliable by building landing pads on the moon.
NASA is spending about $10+ billion for each SLS (Space Launch System) moon mission.
Even with $400 million for the mission portion and $100 million for the launch, $6 billion per year would be enough to fund monthly manned missions to the moon. [ed: Emphasis added]
This would support the construction and operation of large manned bases on the moon.
Notice that SpaceX moonshots would cost
only 1% 5% [see comments below] of what each NASA moonshot would cost! NASA must be insane to proceed with its development of its exorbitantly expensive Space Launch System, when the SpaceX option is [likely to be] available [in a few years] and so much more affordable [than NASA’s SLS is projected to be]. I wonder what US President Trump would think about the economics here?
Meanwhile, Beyond the Moon is Mars
Elon Musk has one good company, and he is still planning to take it to Mars. The more powerful Starship design will allow for much larger cargoes — including human cargo — to Mars.
Back in mid-2017, Musk said that the Starship architecture (which was then called the Interplanetary Transport System) could potentially allow a million-person city to rise on Mars within 50 to 100 years. He’s still working toward such an ambitious timeline — an even more ambitious one, in fact. On Thursday, one of Musk’s Twitter followers asked, “So a million people [on Mars] by 2050?” The billionaire responded simply: “Yes.” __ Space.com
Elon Musk has been on a mission to Mars ever since he founded SpaceX in 2002. It is good to see his long preparations unfold. As long as he keeps the company on a sound fiduciary basis, his chances of establishing a permanent human presence off-planet seem good in the long run.
The first $trillionaire may be a space entrepreneur such as Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos. It is a question of economic incentives and payoffs.
The satellite market is booming. But space tourism is up and coming. The technology for developing the resources of near-Earth asteroids and the moon is getting better. Many high value scientific projects would benefit from placement on the far side of Luna. The real “killer app” for space development has probably not been conceived yet.
Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are working hard to make space launch safe, affordable, and routine. Once that is done, it is up to human ingenuity to devise an endless list of profitable space ventures that can bootstrap the human presence into space for the long term. It is important for free private entities to grab the high ground before the totalitarian “body snatcher” states such as China attempt to monopolize control.
An analysis by Hassler and colleagues, published in 2014 in Science, noted that a human expedition with 360 days total in interplanetary space, plus 500 days on Mars itself, would expose astronauts to just over 1 sievert of radiation. Now statistically that’s not too awful. It would increase the odds of you getting fatal cancer by some 5% over your lifetime.
However, if we consider just the dose on Mars, the rate of exposure averaged over one Earth year is just over 20 times that of the maximum allowed for a Department of Energy radiation worker in the US (based off of annual exposure).
Mars settlers will need to shield their living and working spaces with a thick padding of Martian soil.