A discovery that shocked the religious worldview of our place in the universe. Fast forward three hundred years when we've landed twelve men on our moon. An achievement that was largely driven forward in a world living in the shadow of a threat of global nuclear war. Since that wrath has subsided our raised to expand into space has waned the merry Society put it best with their founding statement. Civilizations like people thrive and challenge and decay without it.
The time has passed for human societies to use war as driving stress for technological progress. As the world moves towards unity we must join together, not a mutual passivity but in common enterprise. Facing outward to embrace a greater and nobler challenge than that which we previously posed to each other. Pioneering Mars will provide such a challenge. One man has embraced that challenge like no other and his name is Elon Musk. Today we're going to investigate how will SpaceX get us to Mars?
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Goal Of Elon MuskElon Musk's ultimate goal is to reduce the cost of space travel. He believes that he can get the cost of a ticket to Mars down to around half a million USD. The overlap of people who actually want to go to Mars and the people who can actually afford it will be great enough to form the Mars colony. The most efficient way that is the one that uses the least amount of fuel to get to Mars from Earth is with the home and transfer method named after Walter Holman who first proposed the idea in 1925.
With this method, you wait for the earth to be at its closest point to the Sun and then launch. Mars needs to be about 44.4 degrees ahead of Earth so that Mars will be at its most distant point from the Sun when the vehicle arrives. This alignment happens once every 26 months. This is not the shortest or the fastest path to Mars but requires the least amount of energy input when getting the cost of travel down this is the deciding factor.
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The space shuttle could transfer one kilo to low-earth orbit for about $18,000. The Falcon 9 can do the same for just 2,700 and SpaceX is continuously working to reduce that cost. Let's take a look at the Falcon nines launch sequence and learn some of the ways SpaceX has reduced the cost of operation.
How does the Falcon 9 work?The Falcon 9 first stage is powered by nine Merlin engines these engines have the highest thrust to weight ratio of an e booster engine ever made at 155 to one this means the engines can lift more with less fuel and dude faster. At launch, the nine engines produced 7900 kilonewtons of thrust lifting the 550-tonne rocket off the ground and gradually accelerating it to five times the speed of sound. This section called inter stage houses another Merlin engine that is designed to work optimally in the vacuum of space.
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The first stage now separates about 75 kilometers above our planet's surface and reveals the second stage engine. It's interesting to note that interstage remains connected to the first stage after separation. This was not the case for the Saturn 5 as interstage needed to wait for the engines of the second stage the fire before separating using pyrotechnic charges this ensured a clean separation. As there were worries that the interstage would collide with the engines as it separated due to clearance issues.
This is not a problem with the Falcon 9 making the interstage reusable and again saving money. The Merlin engine of the second stage is designed to be shut down and restarted multiple times to deliver the payload to the appropriate orbit or increase the velocity enough to perform the Hohmann transfer to Mars. The payload is stored inside the composite fairing which is big enough to fit a school bus. When the time is ripe the fairing splits in half and drifts away from the second stage, the payload is now released into orbit around Earth.
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Meanwhile, the first stage is begun its descent back down to earth, coal gas thrusters fired flip it around. Once this maneuver is complete the engines will fire again to bring the speed down free entry and give an appropriate trajectory to reach the landing site.
Upon reentry, the grid fins deploy which provide aerodynamic control allowing it to steer. These are fantastic little devices that provide excellent control at supersonic speeds. This mesh structure provides a huge amount of control surface area in a small amount of space which allows them to be he stowed away during launch to reduce drag. Grid fins are also much shorter than conventional planar fins so they generate fewer hinge moments. Meaning they need smaller motors to control them in a high-speed flow. As the first stage descends closer to sea level the cold thrusters grid fins and Merlin engines work together to control the precise landing on the drone ship barge. The reason SpaceX uses this barge is another cost-saving measure.
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The Falcon 9 launches from Elon towards the sea for safety reasons. When the first stage separates is over open ocean and if it needed to return to land it would need to slow down, turn around and use more fuel to get back to where it started. Instead, the drone-ship can place itself at the predicted landing zone and wait for the first stage. This way the Falcon 9 just needs a little bit of extra fuel to slow itself down to land. Most people see SpaceX's true innovation in the reusable rocket but their innovation in the manufacturing field is just significant.
How SpaceX Will Reduce The Cost Of Space Travel?SpaceX was the first space company to employ a method called vertical integration to manufacture their rockets. This means that SpaceX designs and manufactures nearly all of its components itself. The Merlin engines, the aluminum-lithium fuel tanks, the composite fairing for holding the payloads, the Dragon spacecraft. the flight computers and the coding that goes into them, they are all designed and manufactured by SpaceX.
Comparing this to the space shuttle Rockwell developed the orbiter Lockheed, Martin developed external tank and ATK developed the solid rocket boosters. Each of these companies has their own sub-contractors too - this adds a huge amount of cost on to the final price tag. Each sub-contractor adds a Marco percentage to their selling price in order to make their own profit. Manufacturing everything yourself eliminates all of these price markups. It cuts out the middleman, like buying popcorn as kernels and clocking them yourself rather than buying them from the cinema for $10. But has the added benefit of allowing you to have full control of your quality control and create an efficient product development system. All of your employees can speak and collaborate to improve and develop new designs.
Elon insists on open plan offices to remove any communication barriers. He himself works in a cubicle, this creates the perfect environment for continual innovation and if we want to get to Mars that is going to have to happen. So you may be wondering what's next for SpaceX?
They will be launching their Falcon 9 heavy variant at the end of the year. According to SpaceX the Falcon 9 can currently launch one kilo to Mars for 15,400 Dollars. But the heavy variant can launch one kilo for about 6,600 Dollars. The average American weighs 80 kg ignoring all other costs like how you live on Mars or how you'll survive the journey there. The raw price for a one-way trip to Mars will be about a half million dollars. Musk aims to bring the price for a roundtrip, including all other expenses to Mars down to half a million total.
In 2010, SpaceX presented concept designs for future heavy-lift rockets that will help towards that goal. They're also planning to replace the nine Merlin engines of the Falcon 9 with one incredibly powerful engine dubbed the Merlin 2, that will increase the thrust to weight ratio even more. Currently, we are excited to see what Elon Musk and his incredible employees have in store for us.