SpaceX is almost ready to start building a permanent human settlement on Mars with its massive Starship rocket.
The private space company is about to launch its first unmanned mission to Mars in as little as four years from now, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said Friday (October 16) at the International Mars Society Convention.
“I think we have a huge chance of creating the second Mars transfer window,” Musk said in a discussion with Mars Society founder Robert Zubrin. You can see a repeat of the lecture here.
The window that Musk is referring to is a launch option that occurs every 26 months for missions to Mars. NASA, China and the United Arab Emirates all launched missions for March in July this year. The next window will open in 2022 with Musk referring to the Mars launch option in 2024.
The mission will launch to the red planet on a SpaceX Starship vehicle, a reusable rocket-and-spacecraft combination currently under development at the company̵
Related: Starship and Super Heavy: SpaceX’s Mars colonizing vehicles in pictures
Musk has long said that humans need to establish a permanent and self-sustaining presence on Mars to ensure “the continuation of consciousness as we know it” – in the event that planet Earth is left uninhabitable by something like a nuclear war or an asteroid strike.
But SpaceX has no plans to actually build a Mars base. As a transport company, its only goal is to ferry goods (and people) to and from the red planet, which facilitates the development of others’ Mars base.
“SpaceX is taking on the biggest single challenge, namely the transportation system. There are all sorts of other systems needed,” Mars Society founder Robert Zubrin said during the event.
“My personal hope is that we get to see Starship in the stratosphere before this year’s out, and if Elon is right, reach orbit next year or the year after,” Zubrin added. “This will change people’s perceptions of what’s possible. And then you know, we’ll get NASA to fund the remaining pieces of the puzzle, or entrepreneurs will step up to develop the remaining pieces of the puzzle.”
If Musk’s projections are correct – he is known for offering overly ambitious timelines – SpaceX’s first Mars mission would begin in the same year that NASA astronauts return to the moon during the Artemis program. SpaceX also plans to fly space tourists on a Starship mission around the moon in 2023. NASA has also selected SpaceX as one of three commercial teams to develop lunar landers for the Artemis program.
Musk said Friday that if it were not for the orbital mechanics calling for Mars launches every 26 months, SpaceX “might have a shot at sending or trying to send something to Mars in three years,” Musk said, adding, that Earth and Mars will not be in the best position. “But the window is four years away because they are in different parts of the solar system.”
Musk unveiled plans for SpaceX’s Starship plans in 2016. The project aims to launch a 50-meter-long spacecraft on top of a massive booster for deep space missions to the moon, Mars and elsewhere. Both Starship and its Super Heavy booster can be reused.
This year, SpaceX launched two test flights with Starship prototypes, called SN5 and SN6, from its Boca Chica test site in Texas. These flights reached an altitude of 150 meters.
SpaceX is currently preparing another Starship prototype, called the SN8, for a 12-kilometer (20-kilometer) test flight in the near future.
Email Hanneke Weitering at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @hannekescience. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.