Feeds

Elon Musk plans new Mars rockets bigger than Saturn Vs

Claims endorsement from the Dead Sea Scrolls. No, really

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Not just new Saturn Vs, but nuclear interplanetary ships - and Martian methane factories. It's all in the Dead Sea Scrolls, you know

In them, Markusic outlines plans for new "Merlin 2" and "Raptor" rocket engines to replace SpaceX's current Merlin 1, which drives both the Falcon 1 and 9 vehicles.

The new engines would be fitted not just to Falcon 9s and Falcon 9 Heavies, but to new and bigger stacks - first a Falcon X able to hurl 38 tonnes into orbit, then a Falcon X Heavy which would offer a Saturn V style 125 tonnes. A Falcon XX is also outlined, able to haul no less than 140 tonnes, though this would forfeit SpaceX's vaunted "engine out" capability - the ability of a SpaceX multi-engined rocket to continue with its mission even if it loses an engine.

The Falcon X and XX designs are comparable in size to a Saturn V, as well as in lift. They would be quite capable of lifting the various modules and spacecraft required to assemble a Mars mission into space - and crucially, according to Musk and his people, do so at a far lower cost.

“Mars is the ultimate goal of SpaceX," Markusic told reporters last week.

It would seem that Boeing and the other aerospace titans who had hoped to build Ares V based on their own previous designs were right to fear that Obama's 2015 heavy-lifter decision might mean billions in revenue going to someone else - plainly, SpaceX intends to offer its Falcon X as a contender. SpaceX's "commercial space" aspirations could also spell joblessness for large numbers of NASA employees, as the old manned rockets and shuttles were supplied by Boeing et al but operated by NASA itself.

As for getting from Earth orbit to the red planet, Markusic discussed further radical plans for interplanetary flight. SpaceX considers that early unmanned cargo missions might best be carried out using "Hall thrusters", highly efficient ion drives, which would use solar power to get as much oomph out of their xenon reaction mass as possible.

These solar "tugs" would be relatively slow, however, taking over a year to make a round trip. Spending such a long time far from a planet is a bad idea for astronauts, as space is full of dangerous radiation.

SpaceX consider that a "nuclear thermal" rocket, able to deliver much higher thrust-to-weight ratio and thus shorter journey time than solar/ion engines, is the answer for manned ships. The company says that these advanced technologies are what NASA should focus on, leaving the relatively humdrum business of launch rockets to commercial endeavour.

As for getting up and down from the Martian surface to Mars orbit, SpaceX are in favour of existing schemes which would see methane produced on the red planet using local atmospheric CO2 in the Sabatier process, probably nuclear powered. Methane-fuelled rockets would then be used to propel Martian lander/lifter craft.

It's all exciting stuff: and there's one further point to note. In one of his presentations, Markusic claims endorsement for SpaceX's plans from no less a source than the Dead Sea Scrolls. Apparently a passage in the ancient documents reads as follows:

Black water shall elevate thy children to the heavens. Purify it. But thou shalt not combine it in a ratio greater than one kikkar to twenty shekkels, nor shalt thou burn rocks. Thus saith the lord.

SpaceX's rockets are powered by rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1), produced by refining - purifying, if you will - crude oil, perhaps describable as "black water".

That's mildly interesting. But the story of Elon Musk's epic battle over the coming decade to put the huge legacy workforces and rocketry of NASA and its established contractors out of business - a task far more difficult, probably, than building the Falcon X heavy - could be more interesting still. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
Antarctic ice THICKER than first feared – penguin-bot boffins
Robo-sub scans freezing waters, rocks warming models
I'll be back (and forward): Hollywood's time travel tribulations
Quick, call the Time Cops to sort out this paradox!
Your PHONE is slowly KILLING YOU
Doctors find new Digitillnesses - 'text neck' and 'telepressure'
Reuse the Force, Luke: SpaceX's Elon Musk reveals X-WING designs
And a floating carrier for recyclable rockets
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
prev story

Whitepapers

Seattle children’s accelerates Citrix login times by 500% with cross-tier insight
Seattle Children’s is a leading research hospital with a large and growing Citrix XenDesktop deployment. See how they used ExtraHop to accelerate launch times.
How to determine if cloud backup is right for your servers
Two key factors, technical feasibility and TCO economics, that backup and IT operations managers should consider when assessing cloud backup.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.