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back to article Multimillionaire's private space ship 'can land on Mars'

Famous upstart startup rocket company SpaceX, bankrolled and helmed by renowned internet nerdwealth hecamillionaire Elon Musk, has once again sent its goalposts racing ahead of its rapidly-advancing corporate reality. The Dragon capsule with 'Draco' rockets in action. Credit: SpaceX A proper Dragon can breathe fire as well as …

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Why bother to come back?

I'm sure plenty of people would volunteer for a one-way trip, even if it meant they wouldn't actually survive there very long..

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got a point

No doubt volunteers could be available for a one-way trip.

Being the first man on mars has to come with some bonus points.

And strangely enough there would be little value in people returning from mars. It is unlikely they would ever go again on another trip. And all of the value of having been there can be realized without a return. If you lose communication, you aint coming back anyway.

I can think of a thousand worse ways to die. And a thousand worse places too.

The old saying "a wonderful day to die" (somehow attributed to the american indian) could be rewritten as "a wonderful place to die".

We are all mortal. So either you go away quietly or you make some noise.

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Douglas Adams

Oh, I'm sure we can fill it with estate agents, telphone sanitisers etc. etc.

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@ Mettler

I'd go.

I'm 60. At some point quite soon I will be taking a one way journey, might as well be that one.

If they built a colony ship, and wanted someone to keep the lights on for the first few years I'd sign up for that too.

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Joke

You're right of course...

And they wouldn't survive very long for sure!

The ping must be terrible...

(3 plus minutes by my reckoning).

Seriously jokes aside, I can understand why some would but I wouldn't go. For now, there are lots of other earthly priorities that I have that I'd rather go out fulfilled and anonymous.

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Anonymous Coward

Bankrolled by the US taxpayer.

These companies may have had money from the private sector, but NASA has been financing and providing technical help to them and they can raise private capital on the basis of huge government contracts. They are not really any different from existing US space launcher companies.

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NASA have been putting in seed money true...

But Musk actually seems to be bucking the trend by actually using the money to actually build actual rockets that actually work as opposed to just making really really expensive PDF documents.

Actually.

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AC@12:32

If you knew more about the function and history of NASA or of how most large aerospace companies operate in this area you'd realise how ignorant your comments are.

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Good luck fellas

I'm hugely envious of the generation that saw man land on the moon and would love to live to see the day our species sets foot on another planet.

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Where is Ayn Rand?

Next up: SpaceX destroyed by Federal Read Tape and the tax collector.

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Gotta give that man props!

Say what you want about Elon, but he's using his hecamillions to try to advance technology to the point where Humans can start to travel in the stars! And if that doesnt deserve plaudits then i dont know what does!

If i ever meet the man, the pints on me!

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Don't forget what he does in his spare time

http://www.teslamotors.com/

He must be having a blast developing the future.

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Not only that

He's actually making space flight cost-effective, which I think deserves massive props.

If he's making a profit at the prices he's quoting, it just shows what healthy competition can do to an industry.

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WTF?

that's always puzzled me...

is that Mr. Musk can run a company that makes lifting men and materiel to orbit -something so massively complex only a few national governments have been able to successfully pull it off-and do it more efficiently, cost effectively and with more agility than ever before. But when it comes to electric motorcars for public streets, a fundamental technology thats been around before the 1900's, the trend is the exact opposite- more expensive, less accessable, less adaptable than many other efforts that others have attempted to bring to market.

How long did it take Tesla to release the promised transmission to the Roadster after sale? How many times did that company kiss arse of state and national governments for subsidies and tax breaks for promises of factories that it turned around and abandoned days later? And still living off of the "early adopter" bongwater...nevermind that not a *single* major innovative technology is Tesla developed but purchased off the shelf from companies and suppliers that were selling their wares to the general public years before, so there's no true "early adopter" at this stage.

I'm guessing, the difference is in the management team. One was the usual bunch of corporate MBA's that buzz around "innovations" that can be overpriced and sold to the gullible, while the other was up against hard realities and real-world physics. Can't bulls**t your way past aerodynamics, thrust to weight ratios, stress loads or reentry plasma. But you can always find a way to sell an overrated golf cart to Californians and Floridans (ZAP, GEM,Club Car, EZ-Go, and many others). Mr. Musk had to clean house awhile ago, sent a bunch of 'execs" off to Mission Motors making (but not selling) electric motorcycles. I wonder if it's possible to turn things around after all the bad blood, mistakes and broken promises.

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Rockets vs Electric

I think one of the problems with Electric vehicles is that battery tech isn't keeping up with what's being asked for it, finding stuff to explode in a rocket is pretty easy. Of course that's just looking at fuel sources.

I think there needs to be a paradigm shift in the way people design and think of electric vehicles the same way SpaceX is doing for space flight.

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Coat

Maybe he likes one and not the other?

He probably enjoys the rocket business more, at least presently. He may have been excited about electric cars when he first got into them, but is probably disenchanted by now considering the realities of the available technology.

Any job for which the proper tools exist would be easier than one without, therefore: building a space ship is easier than building a decent electric car.

I suspect that if battery technology does not suddenly improve we might be better off focusing on generating the needed power on demand, rather than trying to store it in massive quantity. Perhaps via some beefed up implementation of a hydrogen fuel cell, or better yet a micro IFC reactor!

Back to my dull reality I go.

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Boffin

The biggest problem with electric vehicles

The biggest problem with electric vehicles is government red tape. You have OSHA, the EPA, the DOT, and FSG only knows what else at the Federal level, and then yet another layer of all that at the State level, and even some more at County and City government levels. Yes, battery technology is still a bit of an issue, but in 1907 Detroit Electric was making electric cars with an advertised range of 80 miles on a charge, and in actual road tests exceeded 200 miles. One would think that humanity could probably achieve at least parity with technology that's a century old, if we throw enough money at the problem.

Meanwhile, SpaceX is managing to improve on existing, current technology by using the age-old Engineering paradigm: "Steal from the best." You take what's been done before, see what you can do to improve it economically, and do it. There's nothing wrong with that, it's the smart way to advance technology. Fortunately, the space transportation industry isn't overrun with patent trolls, like the software field is. Not yet, anyway.

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Comparing a horseless carriage to a modern car...

The comparison is very silly and not at all realistic. Modern technology can do much more than achieve parity with century-old technology. The Detroit Electric cars you reference had a top speed of about 20MPH (32Km/H), and weighed a fraction of what a modern vehicle must. Modern safety standards require a much sturdier, and consequently heavier vehicle. Were a vehicle similar in design built, using modern motors and batteries, it would have a much greater top speed and range, and would be extremely unsafe by modern standards.

People living in the developed world have come to expect certain amenities in their vehicles, all of which add weight, including but not limited to:

-Heating and air conditioning (these systems add great weight to an electric vehicle, as well as power consumption)

-Sound systems, cruise control, electronic locks, internal lighting, electronic defroster, windshield wipers, headlights, tail lights, turn signals and such, other assorted electronics and the many pounds of copper wiring required to run them

-Comfortable, secure seating and seat belts (as opposed to thinly padded bench seating)

-Roll cages and crumple zones (generally made of dense metallic substances)

-A large trunk (/boot) or other storage space

-Instrument and control panels (speedometer, odometer, tachometer, etc., and controls for all the other devices, the housing for all of these devices)

-Coverings for every structural surface - carpeted floors, upholstered ceiling, doors, etc.

You might argue that many of these things are unnecessary, and that modern vehicles without things like cruise control and air conditioning are commonly marketed. This is true - however, it is unlikely that you will find many individuals with the ready cash to become early adopters of a new technology who are willing to spend that ready cash on a vehicle without these amenities. A vehicle that can be built will not be built if it cannot be feasibly marketed. If early adopters sufficiently fund the development of electric car technology, it is believable that one day inexpensive economy-class electric cars, a la Geo Metro, might become available. Until then, barring the emergence of revolutionary battery technology, electric cars with limited range and long charge times will be the name of the game.

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Anonymous Coward

See

That's what you need to propel the human race forward, someone whose crazy enough to punch the world in the face until his dream works and crazy people that are willing to give him the money on the off chance it works.

A bit like how the Europeans went off and founded colonies around the world.

Even if he fails, at least he tried.

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Yep.

... and Sid Meier gets to dust off Colonization ready for a twenty-first century update.

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Re: Yep.

Sid Meier (or rather Brian Reynolds) already made Alpha Centauri. Great game, but too addictive for me to allow myself to play it.

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See what?

While I, like everyone else I imagine, am impressed by the crazy dreams, innovation and hard work of Elon Musk and co., what achievement is "Europeans went off and founded colonies around the world" and therefore why the comparison? You make it sound like there were not people already there living their lives perfectly successfully before being invaded or European colonies means anything ... Or are Europeans so special that only where they tread is where mankind has progressed?

In case this is an argument of one-upmanship, China was the world's superpower in every single respect, including science, for thousands of years, long before Europeans even gained scientific awareness. It's also quite likely that the natural state of affairs will soon be restored: i.e. China will again be the world's only superpower. Before that, for eons that dwarf even China's growth, everyone came from Africa. In short, Europeans are a just blip in mankind's interesting journey so far.

Find some other viable comparison, e.g. the invention of ocean-faring ships and sea lanes. At least this *can*, in known history, be fairly attributed to Europeans.

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title

I agreed with you up until the "natural state of affairs". A Chinese jingoist might see it that way (in the same way a Euro-jingoist would say that 'twas them wot brought civilization to the heathen savages) but, seriously...

Historically speaking, the "natural state of affairs" is caves and savannahs or, at best, in terms of recorded history, mud hovels.

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Ocean-faring ships

"Find some other viable comparison, e.g. the invention of ocean-faring ships and sea lanes. At least this *can*, in known history, be fairly attributed to Europeans."

Polynesians had intercontinental trade routes at least a millennium before the Europeans started their colonisation era.

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Not to mention

Not to mention the fact that many ocean-going innovations (like the rudder) came from outside Europe; China, India and the Middle-East.

Steam engines, telephony, monorails - it's only really been since the Industrial era that Europeans have been inventing stuff.

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Why bother coming back?

If he's talking about colonisation, then why both with the return phase? Just set the capsule down, astronauts/colonists get out into habitat building, and use capsule components as raw materials?

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I don't doubt a Dragon could set down on Mars

Too bad about it having no way to get there.

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Falcon 9 Heavy

I think would just about be capable. Might need a extra booster to get the capsule on the way, but could easily lift that along with the capsule I would think. Might take a while to get there though.

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@Aaron Em

Aaron Em: "Too bad about it having no way to get there."

Give them a chance, they are only 8 years old ... They have done amazingly well just getting this far and this fast. Plus any trip to Mars would require the construction of some kind of modular space ship in orbit, in the same way the ISS was built. (The ISS by the way is currently around 418 metric tonnes).

The Falcon Heavy has a Payload to Low Earth Orbit capacity of 53 metric tonnes. Thats enough lift capacity to start thinking about practical designs that would allow (in a few years) the start of construction of a ship in orbit to get to Mars.

Plus a Mars ship would need to be huge, as its got to have capacity for living in it for a few years.

Even the construction of such a big ship in orbit would be a monumental achievement, before they even try to get to Mars.

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@Asgard

Big is easy if you go inflatable.

I think a good first step in the right direction would be to send an inflatable module prototype up to the ISS for some real world testing. Get all the kinks worked out.

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@Ainteenbooty

"I think a good first step in the right direction would be to send an inflatable module prototype up to the ISS for some real world testing. Get all the kinks worked out."

Well Bigelow licensed (and tweaked) the technology for inflatables from NASA and IIRC they already have some prototypes in orbit. They seem to be making steady (but quiet) progress but continue to be on the look out for cost effective launch services for their guests. I doubt the current *public* figure fo $20m for a paying passenger to the ISS on a Russian Soyuz is *anywhere* near reasonable as far as they are concerned.

The "problem" for NASA management is that an inflatable sort of *eliminates* a large reason for *having* shuttle flights

You're quite right that for example a Falcon (or Delta or Atlas) shroud could pack a *lot* of living space inside, requiring pressurization and installation of various rack mounted hardware to make them habitable.

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Launch abort system?

Nice to see that NASA has decided this is a good idea after years of launching one of the most complex experimental flying machines in the world _without_ that facility. Wouldn't have helped Columbia but could have saved the Challenger crew.

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Only if...

The abort system ignored the obvious method (the shuttle itself).

IIRC the latest theory is that the crew component of the shuttle went off on a graceful arc before a fatal collision with the sea.

"According to the Kerwin Report:

The findings are inconclusive. The impact of the crew compartment with the ocean surface was so violent that evidence of damage occurring in the seconds which followed the disintegration was masked. Our final conclusions are:

the cause of death of the Challenger astronauts cannot be positively determined;

the forces to which the crew were exposed during Orbiter breakup were probably not sufficient to cause death or serious injury; and

the crew possibly, but not certainly, lost consciousness in the seconds following Orbiter breakup due to in-flight loss of crew module pressure.[13]

Some experts, including one of NASA's lead investigators, Robert Overmyer, believed most if not all of the crew were alive and possibly conscious during the entire descent until impact with the ocean.[17]"

Wikipedia

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Boffin

"could have saved the Challenger crew."

Provided that the exhaust from the leaking seal heating the external fuel tank, and/or the results thereof, was detected in time. In which case they might have had a chance (probably very small, but at least better than none) separating from the tank + boosters (provided that is possible at that stage), performing some aerobatics to get it right side up and aiming the world's most expensive glider anywhere that appears to offer a non-fatal crash landing.

With a Saturn/Apollo-like launcher, the big boom, if happening, will be behind you. The Challenger had the main tank blowing up right beside it. Way less time for the blast to reach from where it started to the bits you want to not get blasted. Apart from that, the shuttle would have needed a separable crew compartment, as you need to accelerate whatever you want saved away from the stuff blowing up. Rapidly. Very. And as acceleration is force divided by mass, more mass means less acceleration for a given force.

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It was studied...

Remember that the Shuttle has a monolithic body, not a single small capsule. To give it a separating escape bod was studied, but it was deemed that this would increase the weight of the crew area substantially, thus limiting payload capability to where it wasn't cost effective, and several of the larger missions (such as lifting components of the ISS) would not have been possible. There was, given the materials and technology of the times, no alternative but the use the entire Shuttle as an escape vehicle, with all of the limitations and risks that implied.

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Cheap rockets to mars...

If Musk can cheaply (relatively speaking) send capsules to mars and land them with a high level of accuracy it opens up the possibility of sending lots of supplies in advance of any manned landing.

If Musk can really get the cost down (and he seems to be managing it) any future Mars explorers would be far better equipped than the moon landers could have ever dreamed of being. You could send up enough stuff to keep them supplied for months. In fact you could keep supplying them on a regular basis. You could send the supplies using long but efficient routes well in advance of the meat-bags, who would follow on a more direct route using something like a VASIMR based craft.

You wouldn't want to send the entire journey to Mars in a Dragon capsule, and I doubt that's what Musk is planning. But it would be ideal for supplies and possibly as a lander once you get there,

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Anonymous Coward

'Hecamillionaire's private space ship 'can land on Mars'

There corrected it for you..

Sheep in a vacuum icon as the title now complies with El'Reg standards.

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You can't get there if you don't dream about it first.

First comes the dream, then comes the engineering work, and after many revisions and probably a few false starts, you get to the final product. Kudos to SpaceX for dreaming the dream and setting about the engineering work.

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Land... on Mars? M'ehhh, a bit of a stretch

After all, there's the question of landing gear, an ascent stage, a beefed-up heatshield for Mars atmospheric entry PLUS Earth re-entry at escape velocity (approx 25k mph), not to mention the issue of a five or six-man crew spending two or three months of out/inbound "coast phase" packed into that can (they'd need a separate mission/hab module attached if for no other reason than to keep the crew from going insane). As a crew ferry a la the Apollo C/SM, perhaps, but as a lander? M'eehhhh...

Musk has gotten a lot accomplished, but he really needs to pull his eyeballs in and concentrate on getting a manned variant of Dragon working and establish a consistent service record for it before he starts thinking about sending it to Mars.

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You don't need to drag Mars AND earth atmospheric re-entry shields all the way

Stop at the ISS on the way back, and either bolt on a new shield that's been delivered there by freight shuttle, or change craft and do the last leg by some earth-to-orbit vehicle.

It might even be possible for some robot craft to 'dock' a new shield onto the returning Mars craft at some point during the return trip.

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If you are serious about interplanetary travel,

there will be no coast phase. You'll do some sort of thrust the entire journey - acceleration for the first half, braking for the second. Landing gear, ascent stages, and heat shielding are actually relatively minor problems compared to the big one: radiation protection. Mars lacks the atmosphere and magnetic protections of Earth, so you need shielding. That gets expensive in terms of fuel consumption. But like I said above, you can't get there if you don't do the dreaming part along with the feet on the ground technical work. He seems to be doing both, which makes him part of a very rare breed.

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Re: Tom13

"relatively minor problems compared to the big one: radiation protection. Mars lacks the atmosphere and magnetic protections of Earth, so you need shielding."

Not necessarily. All the photos we have so far suggest there are plenty of caves on Mars. They surficed for a good while on earth. No reason the Mars Pioneers shouldn't take advantage of all the natural resources they can rather than trying to use expensive (and bulky) technology to sort all their problems.

Persuading the tabloid-reading masses it is fine to send up Nuclear-reactors necessary for power and oxygen generation is probably the biggest challenge. Everything else required for a one-way trip to Mars is actually straight-forward (by space standards).

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@Mike Fluggwhosit

SpaceX already have plans for the required landing gear etc, since they want to land it on Earth.

And absolutely nobody except commentards have mentioned getting back again, just that it *could land* on another planet. The heatshield on the dragon is already capable of mars atmospheric reentry.

I surely think Musk has his eyeballs firmly on the ball. No retraction required. He IS concentrating on getting Dragon working in the locality. You seem to have read much too much in to the two words 'any planet'

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Dock at ISS instead of coming straight in...?

Yeah, that's right; I don't know how I could've forgotten that.

Brake into LEO, dock at ISS, spend a few days debriefing, transferring samples/data and getting cleaned up, climb aboard a fresh Dragon docked at ISS, make a normal orbital re-entry. Yeah. That'd work, assuming ISS is still operational when the Mars mission is flown.

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No coast phase?

Yeah, that'd be a possibility, provided the VASIMIR engines are perfected by then. Dock with a VASIMIR boost stage, thrust to Mars, undock, land, re-dock when your surface ops are done, thrust all the way back.

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WTF?

So, whoever downvoted that

apparently thinks my idea is bonkers.

Well, if you're going to Mars and back you'd want, as noted, something bigger than the Dragon capsule to live in for the duration of the trip. Whatever you need to get down onto the Mars surface and back up again you'd have to have with you. But there's no need to drag the stuff for getting back down on Earth with you all the way; just have it meet up with you somewhere during the return trip. And you don't want the Interplanetary Cruiseliner plunging back down through the earth atmosphere, better to keep it in LEO and refit it for the next trip. For getting the astronauts and the samples down even a couple of those Space Beetles otherwise known as Soyuz would do just fine, and I'm sure gear capable of doing that job will be available by the time people are returning from Mars

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Radiation

It's not the radiation when you're at Mars that's the problem... it's the radiation on the way to Mars that is.

Mars itself will provide some protection from radiation - not a lot, but a hell of a lot more than a stock space vehicle will. As already noted, living in caves is an easy first step, with rock built structures the next.

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Elon Musk

is Hugo Drax and must be stopped at all costs, lest his deadly orchid poison be released into the atmosphere.

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Sir

Why stop him?

</Marvin>

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@Smallbrainfield

"is Hugo Drax and must be stopped at all costs, lest his deadly orchid poison be released into the atmosphere."

Actually he's more like the Drax in the book.

However since he's shown no signs of growing extravagant facial hair or wanting to build a Hydrogen/Florine fueled ICBM I think he's fairly harmless.

Although I doubt that will stop some of the more paranoid bits of the US govt keeping an eye on him on general principles.

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