Featured Image Source: Robert Zubrin
The Mars Society President and Aerospace Engineer Dr. Robert Zubrin, attended SpaceX's Starship Career Day event at Boca Chica Beach, Texas on February 6 to meet with SpaceX Founder and Chief engineer Elon Musk. Zubrin shared that when he greeted Musk, they talked about his plans to colonize Mars. He asked him what The Mars Society could do to help SpaceX's efforts, Musk said:
"Spread the word on the unlimited future opened by making humanity spacefaring."
To which Zubrin responded that The Mars Society "will begin next week by announcing a new international contest to design a 1-million person Mars colony."
We asked what the #MarsSociety could do to help, and he told us: Spread the word on the unlimited future opened by making humanity spacefaring.— Robert Zubrin (@robert_zubrin) February 7, 2020
We will begin next week, by announcing an international contest to design a 1 million person #Mars colony.#SpaceX #NASA #Space #Science
During a recently published The Space Show podcast (February 12), Zubrin was invited to converse about his meeting with Elon Musk, he shared his thoughts about Starship production and colonizing the Red Planet. "It was an interesting meeting also a tour that followed the meeting of the Boca Chica site, saw what was going on there," Zubrin told the podcast's host.
Currently, SpaceX facility in South Texas is working on the first production line of the flight design of Starship, which will conduct high-altitude test flights above Boca Chica Beach. Musk previously mentioned that teams are building Starship SN1 and SN2, two flight prototype flight vehicles. SN1 will perform a 20 kilometer test flight around March or April this year, that could be followed by a 100 km test. The company aims to build at least 20 Starships, as they begin testing them, they will incorporate minor changes to improve the craft's capabilities. That's why SpaceX held a job fair in order to hire individuals with building talent to help with Starship's hands-on production. During the podcast Zubrin said:
"First of all, he is not building a ship he is building a ship yard. As far as he's [Elon Musk] concerned, the primary issue here is not developing the Starship but developing a production line for Starships. That is, its not a question of building one or three, or ten, is a question of building hundreds, that's how they're going to be made cheap."
He added, "In fact, what I saw there was they're simultaneously expanding the facility and creating facilities to build Starships. They are also building them already."
Zubrin also shares that Musk mentioned he aims SpaceX to build two Starships per week, and wants to get the cost down to $5 million each. He believes that in the future SpaceX will bring more jobs to the area in order to achieve that production scale, "They have probably like 300 people employed there now, in a year there will be more than 3,000. Elon's goal as he puts it is to be able to turn this out at a rate of two [Starships] a week. That's how they will be made cheap." Zubrin later added:
"Elon frequently over promises but frequently delivers far more than anyone else in the end. So, he might not deliver first, but he delivers the galaxy."
When asked about his thoughts on Musk's Mars colonization plans he said, "The mission architecture he [Elon] has described is to fly the Starship to Earth orbit. With a number of tanker Starships, you probably need about 5 or 6, to refuel it to go to Mars then it would land on Mars and eventually be refueled to come back." SpaceX previously shared an animation of how Starship would be refueled with another Starship carrying propellant in order to embark on a long-duration voyage (video shown below).
Zubrin says that Musk recognizes "that a problem with Starship is that because its so massive it takes a great deal of facilities to be able to refuel it, so he anticipates that the few Starships that first land on Mars will stay on Mars."
To begin the Mars colonization effort, the rocket company's mission will be to deliver a massive amount of cargo, including vital equipment to Mars, and possibly robots with capabilities to set everything up before the first human arrivals. Part of the first deliveries to Mars could include supplies such as, power generators, large batteries, solar panels that would aid to build/power a propellant plant to refuel Starship and eventually come back to Earth. Zubrin pointed out that it would take 6 to 10 football fields of solar panels to refuel Starship within a 500 day stay on Mars, to which Musk assured, "Fine that's what we'll do."
Starship is capable of carrying 100 passengers plus 100 tons of cargo, Zubrin believes the first missions will not transport 100 passengers, that a crew of about 20 astronauts to set up everything up is safer to prepare for future arrivals of over 50 people.
Musk has often stated that to have a real immigration to Mars and build a successful permanent settlement, Starship will need to be a fully reusable spacecraft that could be capable of performing frequent flights.
Zubrin says building a mini version of Starship to send to Mars has a better advantage to send it and bring it back to Earth, "It would have tremendous advantage for an exploration architecture, because it wouldn't need a big base in order to refuel and come back. He [Musk] was adverse to that. He feels that developing one thing is much better than developing two things." Zubrin believes SpaceX is capable of building both versions of a Starship, a full scale and a mini, especially "seeing how quickly they develop things."
The company is focusing on the development of a massive reusable launch vehicle to accomplish the mission. This includes a giant rocket booster that will be utilized to get Starship out of Earth's atmosphere, then return to land on a spaceport situated at sea, in order to be reused again. "Basically, he does not have a pathological fear of development that aerospace majors have. He is quite willing to develop new things," Zubrin continued.
During the podcast, he explained that landing a Starship on Mars will have some issues - Zubrin believes landing a Starship on the moon will not work because it will have a "gigantic plume" upon landing that it would "blow a crater." he says, "It wouldn't land, it will dig a crater and fall over." Explaining that both the moon and Mars need to have landing pads built beforehand to land a massive vehicle such as Starship, so "that they can take the plume of the Starship …on Mars is a bit less of a problem but it is still a major problem. If that can't be resolved he may be forced to go the mini Starship route." Zubrin stated:
"In order to land a Starship on the moon, someone has to go there first and build a landing pad. So, that its not blowing debris all over the place and building itself a crater to fall into. That's not a good architecture, it just isn't."
Zubrin was asked during the podcast if he mentioned all of his concerns about Starship not being able to land successfully on the moon to Musk, he said that he did not speak to him about that:
"I didn't speak to Elon, but I talked to another engineer about this."
Zubrin believes there is also other issues with the Starship architecture, "For instance, the Starship is a stainless-steel hull and he can do the entry from Earth orbit from that because it has a very low ballistic coefficient which reduces the he heating load, so he can do this with a steel ship without [heat-resistant] tiles or an anything of this sort. Coming back from Mars there is a much higher heating load than coming back from LEO. So, he has to make specialized starships that are reinforced thermal protection." Adding that Earth-to-Earth version of Starship will work, "Surface to surface transportation is great." When asked via Twitter Musk said:
Unfortunately, Starship unlikely to survive LEO entry intact without shielding on windward side, but none required on leeward. Even windward shielding is very light.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 13, 2020
Zubrin strongly believes SpaceX will launch a Starship to Mars first before NASA accomplishes the Artemis moon landing planned for 2024. Listen to the full interview by: The Space Show Podcast