A rocket ship that SpaceX is building for trips to Mars could begin short flights in the first half of 2019, US tech entrepreneur Elon Musk said on Sunday.
Speaking at an annual technology and culture festival in Austin city in Texas, Musk, the billionaire founder of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, told an audience that his timeline for Mars-related test flights is early as next year.
“We are building the first Mars, or interplanetary ship, and I think we’ll be able to do short flights, short up and down flights, sometime in the first half of next year,” Musk said.
The Mars project is “making great progress”, the tycoon said, but acknowledged that “historically people have told me my timelines have been optimistic,” Forbes reports.
In September 2017, SpaceX, Musk’s privately-funded venture, said it aims to send a cargo mission to Mars by 2022, with the ultimate goal to put a human colony on Mars.
SpaceX’s BFR rocket system, announced last year, is considered the successor to Falcon Heavy rocket.
In its current design, the rocket is 106 meters tall with a 9-meter diameter. It uses 37 Raptor engines, with 31 on the booster rocket, and six on the spacecraft. It will have space for 150 tons of cargo, compared to Falcon Heavy’s 30 tons, and is designed to be fully reusable.
A flight will cost less than the initial Falcon 1 flights, which Musk pegged in the US$5-6 million range, CNBC noted.
Yet, Musk has been historically criticized for his overambitious schedules. Falcon Heavy was supposed to launch in 2013, as announced back in 2011, but its debut test flight was completed only in early February this year.
Musk told his audience Sunday at the South by Southwest Festival that he hopes if BFR launches, others will believe Mars travel is possible, and follow suit.
“I think once we build it we’ll have a point of proof something that other companies and countries can go and do. They certainly don’t think it’s possible, but if we do they’ll up their game,” CNBC quoted him as saying.
Mars will need “glass domes, a power station, and an assortment of basic living fundamentals” in the immediate term, according to Musk.
And after the infrastructure is built, “then really the explosion of entrepreneurial opportunity [will begin]“, as the red planet “will need everything from iron foundries to pizza joints,” he said.
Saying that man must colonize other planets before a possible “World War Three” in the coming decades, Musk went on to speculate that “most likely, the form of government on Mars would be somewhat of a direct democracy,” in which residents would vote directly on particular issues.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 13
Translation by Ben Ng with additional reporting
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