Elon Musk has published a new study about his ambitious plans to colonize Mars with SpaceX

Elon Musk wants to colonize Mars with SpaceX.

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Elon Musk wants to colonize Mars with SpaceX.
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Anaele Pelisson/Business Insider; Getty Images; Shutterstock; SpaceX

  • SpaceX founder Elon Musk has authored a second academic study, published this month in the journal New Space.
  • The paper describes SpaceX’s current plans for starting a Mars colony with a fully reusable Big Falcon Rocket system.
  • The study closely follows an October 2017 talk Musk gave in Australia.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk has spun his latest talk about Mars colonization into a second academic study.

Musk’s full paper, titled “Making Life Multi-Planetary,” was published online this month by the journal New Space. It’s currently available to read for free.

“You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great – and that’s what being a spacefaring civilization is all about,” reads the beginning of the study. “It’s about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past. And I can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars.”

If that line sounds familiar, that’s because it comes from Musk’s October 2017 presentation to the International Astronautical Congress.

In fact, the entire study closely follows that talk, though some new details and images have been added. Musk followed the same process after he debuted his preliminary Mars colonization plans at the IAC in September 2016 – he later published a 2017 paper outlining those plans in New Space.

Here are the highlights from Musk’s latest academic study.

How Musk hopes to make like multi-planetary with SpaceX

An illustration of SpaceX's and Elon Musk's

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An illustration of SpaceX’s and Elon Musk’s “Big F—ing Rocket” system launching toward space.
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SpaceX/YouTube

During his 42-minute talk, Musk elaborated on SpaceX’s plans to build a fully reusable system known as the BFR, Big Falcon Rocket, or – as Musk often calls it – the Big F—ing Rocket” (a name that’s conspicuously absent from his New Space paper).

The 348-foot-tall system will have two main parts: a 191-foot-tall reusable rocket booster and a 157-foot-tall reusable spaceship. The spaceship is being designed to carry 100 people or 140,000 lbs into low-Earth orbit.

As Musk explained in his new study and presentation, the spaceship can be refilled with fuel while in orbit, then fired off to the moon, Mars, or somewhere else in the solar system.

SpaceX’s first missions to Mars would come in 2022 and 2024, according to Muks’s plan – though he has emphasized that the timeline is “aspirational.”

“People have told me that my timelines, historically, have been optimistic,” Musk said at SXSW.

The first trip in 2022 would drop off equipment made to harvest water and carbon dioxide from the air and convert it into methane using solar energy. That fuel would be stored in depots to refill Earth-bound BFRs. The second trip in 2024 which would be crewed with astronauts.

A diagram showing how SpaceX plans to establish a base and methane-fueling depot on Mars.

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A diagram showing how SpaceX plans to establish a base and methane-fueling depot on Mars.
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Elon Musk/SpaceX; New Space/Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. Publishers

Musk has yet to explain the details of how he’d keep anyone alive on the moon or red planet, though he addressed that process in very general terms during a conversation earlier this month at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.

“It will start off building just the most elementary infrastructure, just a base to create some propellant, a power station, blast domes in which to grow crops – all of the sort of fundamentals without which you cannot survive,” Musk said. “And then really there’s gonna be an explosion of entrepreneurial opportunity, because Mars will need everything from iron foundries to pizza joints. I think Mars should really have great bars: the Mars Bar.”

Musk is not joking

After a successful test-launch of Spacex’s Falcon Heavy – the world’s most powerful operational rocket system – Musk called for a new space race. Joining SpaceX in its space-exploration efforts is a growing list of competing companies and government agencies scrambling to develop their own reusable, lower-cost launch systems.

But SpaceX is for now ahead of the pack. The company recently applied to take over an 18-acre site in the Port of Los Angeles, which is 14 miles south of its Hawthorne, California headquarters. The goal appears to be the construction of a factory that will build the first BFR spaceships.

Musk has said SpaceX plans to test-launch the first spaceship on short “up-and-down flights” before the summer of 2019. This will likely occur at SpaceX’s remote facility in McGregor, Texas.

Around the same time SpaceX begins to reach for Mars, Musk may start using BFRs to establish a high-speed transportation system for Earth. In theory, a BFR flight could take a person from Los Angeles to New York in 25 minutes.

The rocket rides may be costly and uncomfortable for passengers, but Leroy Chiao, a former NASA astronaut, previously told Business Insider that he doesn’t doubt Musk’s resolve.

“This would not be for the faint of heart, and it is difficult to see how this would be inexpensive,” he added. “But the one thing I’ve learned from observing Elon is not to count him out.”