How close is SpaceX to colonizing Mars

Mars colonization-realistic or science fiction?

In a previous post, we presented Elon Musk's (Space X) plan to colonize Mars. How realistic are these plans?

For this, a number of questions must be answered that are decisive for their implementation: Technical feasibility? Use? Financing?

The settlement designed by Musk should contain all the elements that ensure a life on Mars that is independent of the supply of earth and that make human life independent of supply from the earth, similar to Robert Zubrin in his "Mars Direct" Project: water from the ice caps of the poles or from underground residual moisture, oxygen from the CO2 atmosphere using a method already proven on the ISS, electrical energy from nuclear reactors or solar cells, food from air-conditioned greenhouses.

How realistic is that with the scenario suggested by Musk ?:

Mission scenario


Settlement on Mars according to Elon Musk

Technical feasibility?

With the Falcon Heavy, Space X immediately succeeded in developing the Falcon 9 into a heavy-duty carrier that works and whose expensive lower stage is reusable and can therefore significantly reduce transport costs.

For a carrier the size of the BFR with a transport capacity of 100 passengers to Mars, this would mean that the entire technical and logistical effort would be multiplied by at least one order of magnitude. Among other things, it would have to be proven that either the bundling of a large number of existing engines works, or a new super engine is developed that far exceeds the performance of the J-2 engine of the Saturn V. Both are technological challenges that have to be mastered first (with a rocket with 40 engines, the N1 as a competitor to the Saturn V, the Soviets failed at the time).

In contrast, the development of the various floor elements that can be seen in the picture of the settlement appears to be fundamentally possible with the technologies available today, if it is possible to guarantee the required durability and reliability of the individual elements -which, however, requires a very high development and test effort.

A difficult hurdle, on the other hand, is the landing of the individual elements of the settlement on Mars, which - based on the detailed elaborations and calculations by Robert Zubrin for his "Mars Direct" proposal - would each weigh between 20 and 50 t. As was shown recently in the context of EMC17, a landing of such large masses on Mars is by no means trivial. The effort for landing the NASA Mars rover "Curiosity", which weighs around 1t, was considerably higher than for the much lighter Spirit and Opportunity.

An alternative to reducing the land mass would be to create production facilities on Mars for larger elements from smaller individual parts that land individually on Mars. However, this would increase the number of missions required overall, increase the technical complexity and become logistically more complex.

Benefits and costs of colonizing Mars

Colonization of Mars is seen by Robert Zubrin and his numerous supporters as a necessary step for mankind to show mankind an alternative in the face of overpopulation and increasing scarcity of resources on earth. To do this, one would have to get several billion people to Mars and at the same time prevent further human growth on earth. This is illusory and would mean that only a privileged small minority would live on Mars, given the enormous effort required to create tolerable living conditions on Mars, since Mars lacks an atmosphere, vegetation, and surface water, and since Mars is constantly exposed to deadly space radiation.

Elon Musk wants to recoup the costs necessary for the colonization of Mars in the longer term through tickets for the passengers. Even with ticket prices of several million dollars, it is difficult to imagine that the transport costs alone can be recovered - not to mention an amortization of the development costs. Despite the intended reusability of the carrier.

In addition, the high cost of a trip to Mars will mean that only well-heeled passengers will be eligible and, for example, the specialists required from professions with low incomes will be left out.

Before such paying passengers can fly to Mars, a functioning infrastructure would first have to be installed on Mars, which would require hundreds of billions in manufacturing costs and many billions in annual maintenance costs. Their amortization via the targeted price for a trip to Mars or the exploitation of raw materials available on Mars is illusory. Exploiting the minerals present on Mars and transporting them to Earth would be far too expensive.

For comparison: within the framework of the much less ambitious "Mars Direct" project, around $ 80 ... 120 billion would be needed to get 4 astronauts to Mars, who would live and work there under extremely cramped conditions for about 3 years before that they will be brought back to earth.