In 2020, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said he was " very confident " about the possibility of a first manned mission to Mars in 2026. Concretely, how will these interplanetary journeys take place?
When founding SpaceX in 2002, Elon Musk had a big dream:to make humans an interplanetary species. With this in mind, the company is developing two huge structures:the Starship and the Super Heavy. The first is a fifty-meter high reusable vessel under development in Texas, in Boca Chica. High altitude tests are currently being carried out with prototypes, before considering the first suborbital tests next year.
The second is a reusable super heavy booster, also in development. Imagine a gigantic cylinder 72 meters high for nine meters in diameter boosted by 28 Raptor engines (about three times more powerful than the current Falcon 9 Merlin engines). Once the Starship is capped on it, this rocket should be 122 meters high .
As far as the calendar is concerned, Elon Musk is counting on a first uncrewed mission to Mars for 2024 and is aiming for a possible manned mission for 2026. Then the question of travel arises.
– As you can see above, first, the Starship capped on its Super Heavy launcher lifts off to be released into Earth orbit . As it stands, however, the ship cannot yet travel to Mars. For this, it needs fuel.
- This is why during this time his caster returns to Earth to fetch "gasoline" for him. Concretely, a new Starship vessel filled with fuel (a tanker version) will be capped on it in order to join the first vessel.
– This tanker ship finally docks with the Starship in orbit to transfer fuel to it (up to one hundred tons of liquid oxygen and liquid methane), before returning to Earth at his turn.
– Meanwhile, with a full tank, the first Starship begins its long journey to the Red Planet. The trip should last about six months .
– Once there, the Starship enters the Martian atmosphere at a speed of approximately 7.5 km per second . He then uses his reaction control thrusters to perform a "belly flop". In other words, it makes its descent almost "prone", at an angle of attack of about 70-80 degrees. This maneuver is indeed essential both to purge its speed and to ensure its reuse without a massive heat shield.
– As it approaches the ground, the ship eventually reorients itself to an upright position to prepare for landing. The door opens, and welcome to Mars!
The video below allows us to appreciate in images the different stages of this journey.