SpaceX To Develop Fully Reusable Rocket, Make Humanity a Multi-Planet Species

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    Sep 30, 2011 4:00 AM GMT

    During a speech at the National Press Club today, SpaceX founder, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Technology Officer Elon Musk made what he called an "exciting" announcement - SpaceX will develop a fully reusable space transportation system.

    Perhaps more exciting, and a bit surprising in that venue, was his extended discussion of why humanity should become a multi-planet species. Since Mars is the closest comparatively habitable planet, that's where he wants to send people.

    But the first step is lowering the cost of launch, and that means reusable rockets, he said. In an animation posted on the SpaceX website (click on the illustration), both stages of the two-stage rocket return to Earth and make a soft landing after completing their tasks of delivering the Dragon capsule to orbit. Dragon is shown docking with the International Space Station (ISS), then undocks and returns to Earth also making a soft landing (similar to how Russia's Soyuz spacecraft lands).

    His passion, though, is clearly what he believes low cost launch will enable - "a self sustaining human population" on Mars. He stressed that to him a "little base" of people is "not interesting." He wants large numbers of people to move there permanently. He views it as "life insurance" for our species in the event of a human-made or natural catastrophe.

    How much should be spent on this kind of life insurance, he asked? About one quarter of one percent of GDP is about right in his view.

    As for those who want to move to Mars, Musk suggested a ticket price of $500,000 per person. By the time such a possibility is available, he forecast there would be 8 billion people on the planet (there are almost 7 billion now) and if only "one in a million" could afford the price and wanted to go, that would be 8,000 people right there.
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    Sep 30, 2011 6:37 PM GMT
    Why it's important -

    The SpaceX Falcon Heavy Booster: Why Is It Important?

    The announcement of the Falcon Heavy in early April, 2011 was a potential game-changer in the space launch industry. The Falcon Heavy is slated to launch twice the payload of the Shuttle at about one-fifteenth the cost of a Shuttle launch — an approximate 97% reduction in launch costs compared with the Shuttle! [..]

    To fairly compare the two rocket performances, you really have to look at the numbers. Although the Falcon Heavy looks similar to a Delta 4 Heavy, its performance is much higher and, simultaneously, its cost per launch is much lower. It can put 53 metric tons (117,000 lbs) in orbit compared to the Delta 4 Heavy’s 23 metric tons (or 50,600 lbs), a 230% improvement. At the same time, it only costs about $100 million per launch, while the Delta 4 Heavy launches cost $435 million each (calculated from an Air Force contract of $1.74 billion for 4 launches).

    Comparing the payload costs to orbit is useful here. The Delta 4 Heavy can put up 23 metric tons at about $19 million/ton or $8600 per pound). If it could put up 53 metric tons at the same price per ton, then that payload launch would cost almost exactly 1 billion dollars. Since the Falcon Heavy’s posted price per launch centers on 100 million dollars (and the corresponding payload price is about $850 per pound or $1.9 million per ton), it is easy to see that the future (< 2 years) price of a commercial Falcon Heavy launch per unit weight is almost exactly one-tenth of the current Delta 4 Heavy price.

    These results show that using the average posted price value of $100 million, the Falcon Heavy actually can be launched for about one-fourth the cost of a Delta IV Heavy (4.35 times cheaper per launch), yet it carries 2.31 times as much payload! This means the current cost per pound to LEO for the Delta IV Heavy is 4.35 times 2.31 = 10.05 or almost exactly 10 times more expensive (by multiplying the two ratios together).
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    Sep 30, 2011 6:39 PM GMT
    I don't think humanity should be a uniplanet species.