Elon Musk to Unveil Mars Spaceship Plans in September

Hang tight, Matt Damon.

Elon Musk
AP Photo/Francois Mori

Elon Musk has made no secret of his desire to send people to Mars. But in his public statements, he’s tended to focus more on the flashy big picture concepts (such as, say, nuking the planet to terraform it up to human comfort levels) than the nuts and bolts of how he’ll send people there.

That may change in September, though. At this week’s StartmeupHK forum in Hong Kong, Musk said he will reveal his plans for a Mars-capable spacecraft at the International Astronomical Conference, scheduled for September 26–30 in Guadalajara, Mexico.

“I’m hoping to describe that architecture later this year,” Musk said, “and I think that will be quite exciting.”

While SpaceX has been in the news recently more for its semi-successful attempts to land a rocket on a barge, the company has quietly been working on the project, dubbed the Mars Colonial Transporter, for years. Musk has claimed the ship will be reusable, and will be able to transport up to 100 people or 100 tons of cargo to the Red Planet. (The space shuttle, for comparison, could only haul about 18 tons—and that was to the International Space Station, which orbits Earth at a distance of roughly 250 miles.)

The Mars project hinges on the methane-powered Raptor rocket engines SpaceX is developing, which are designed to be six times as powerful as the engines in the company’s current Falcon 9 launch vehicles. The company has already begun initial testing of the Raptors, but they likely won’t be ready for prime-time for at least four more years.

Still, Musk remains bullish on the timeline for reaching Mars, claiming he believes human missions could launch by 2025. It’s a borderline-crazy claim, for sure. Then again, if some people had told us in 2007 that Tesla Motors would have basically redefined the automotive industry by 2016, we’d have probably called the men in white coats on them, too.