SpaceX Starship Timeline: Making Life Multi-planetary
November 24, 2019 • Evelyn J. Arevalo
Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, envisions a future where humans are multi-planet species. He mentioned that building the first permanent city on Mars will take 1,000 Starships and timeframe of 20 years. SpaceX ultimate goal is to build a sustainable city on the red planet by the year 2050, since planetary alignment only allows for a more successful Mars mission voyage once every two years.
It’s possible to make a self-sustaining city on Mars by 2050, if we start in 5 years & take 10 orbital synchronizations— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 25, 2019
Musk explained on Twitter that it is possible SpaceX could use 10 orbital synchronizations to complete a city on Mars by the year 2050.
"Conciousness is a very rare and precious thing. We should take whatever steps we can to preserve the light of consciousness. [...] We should do our very best to become a multi-planet species, extend consciousness beyond Earth, and we should do it now."
In order to make his vision a reality, SpaceX would need to build 1,000 Starships and launch them with cargo to Mars to increase the chances of human survival upon arrival.
As the planets align only once every two years— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 7, 2019
Starship will be reusable, Musk mentioned that ideally it should fly up to three times per day, that would total over 1,000 flights per year for each craft. SpaceX is aiming for the quickest timeline to get there.
2019: Developing Starship
This year, SpaceX started building Starship at their South Texas facility in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville, Texas and at their development facility in Cocoa, Florida.
Source: Evelyn J. Arevalo /Twitter@JaneidyEve
They first built Starhopper, a scaled down version of the craft meant to test the new Raptor engine. The first prototype had a retro design with landing legs. There was a wind storm and the top section of the craft blew over. The bottom section of was still useful to test the engine. Starhopper successfully went through a series of low altitude flight "hop" tests with a single Raptor. It's last test was a 150 meter launch above Boca Chica, Texas.
Starhopper at Boca Chica/Source: SpaceX
The company then proceeded to build Starship Mk1 in Texas and Starship Mk2 in Florida, which has 3 Raptor engines. This craft has a new design featuring fins. SpaceX planned to launch it 20 kilometers above Boca Chica before the end of this year but during a pressurization test the craft partially bursted. SpaceX said it was an expected occurrence because they intentionally pressurized the craft to test it.
Starship Mk1 / Source: SpaceX
Now, the company will proceed to build Starship Mk3 at Boca Chica. Mk2 in Florida will likely preform the 20 kilometer launch soon.
2020: Orbital Starship Development
Next year, in 2020, SpaceX will be working on the next phase of Starship's development that will include flight tests of their Starship Mk2 and Mk3 prototypes, as well as building the first prototype of the Super Heavy rocket booster. The rocket will enable Starship to preform high-altitude and high-velocity flights. Starship could make its orbital debut flight in 2020.
The final version of Starship will be a massive stainless-steel vehicle, capable of carrying 100 passengers and 100 metric tons of cargo. [Read: SpaceX Is Building The World's Most Powerful Rocket: Starship Technical Details]
2021: First Commercial Flight
Starship could have its first commercial flight as early as 2021. This first commercial flight would launch a commercial satellite into space, the vice president of SpaceX's commercial sales, Jonathan Hofeller, announced. This launch requires both Starship and it's Super Heavy rocket booster to work at optimal levels for a paying customer. Super Heavy booster and Starship are being designed to launch up to 20 metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit or more than 100 metric tons to low Earth orbit.
If the first commerical flight is successful, it will prove Starship's technology and design is reliable.
2022: First Moon Mission
This could be the first year that SpaceX reaches the Moon. During a NASA teleconference the SpaceX president, Gwynne Shotwell, stated:
"We are aiming to be able to drop Starship on the lunar surface in 2022."
If Starship's development proves successful, NASA could choose SpaceX to launch cargo to the lunar surface in the year 2022. [Read: SpaceX Starship may fly NASA cargo to the moon by 2022]
Possible Mars Cargo Mission
Musk mentioned that SpaceX would attempt a moon landing first then head to Mars as soon as the planets align. The next alignment occurs in the year 2022, it's possible that two unmanned Starships could make their way to Mars. Since the two planets will be at an ideal position for Mars arrival. The first Mars missions would take supplies to build life support infrastructure, also power and fuel plants. Maybe SpaceX will send rovers that could find water sources to choose ideal locations for future Starship arrivals. Each ship will be capable of carrying around 100 metric tons of supplies.
2023: First Manned Mission
SpaceX plans to send a group of artists on a circumlunar voyage aboard Starship. This mission around the moon, would last about one week, and it's part of an art project named dearMoon, concieved and financed by Japanese entrepreneur, Yusaku Maezawa.
This mission is guaranteed to be exciting, Starship would fly 238,900 miles away from Earth. Maezawa indicated he would fly aboard Starship around Earth first, before SpaceX's circumlunar voyage in order to prepare. This could be SpaceX's most important flight.[Read: SpaceX Starship will take Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa on a journey around the Moon]
2024: First Mars Mission
By the year 2024, Earth and Mars are aligned again, to send Starship to Mars.
If SpaceX did not launch two Starships with cargo to Mars in the year 2022, then this time, they have the opportunity to launch them. If they did send cargo in 2022, they plan to send two more cargo ships and possibly two crew ships that will transport the first people to Mars. So, four Starship's would head on a voyage to Mars simultaneously.
First Crew Mission to Mars
The first brave astronaut crew would have the hardest task of setting up what is needed for survival on the red planet. One of the first things they would be challenged to do is, setting up a propellant production plant to refuel Starship. That, will enable them to return home towards Earth one day.
Starship is designed to refuel and relaunch powered by Raptor engines, that are fueled by sub-cooled liquid methane and sub-cooled liquid oxygen, (unlike other rocket's that use other type of propellant) this, will enable astronauts to set up refueling stations on Mars. The fuel could be made on Mars upon arrival by using the Sabatier process, they could take subsurface water ice and carbon dioxide from the planets atmosphere to synthesize methane. So martians will have to search and dig for ice water and capture carbon dioxide. They would have to take all the equipment needed to do so.
The first Martians will also have to set up gardens to grow food for survival. They could use solar-powered hydroponics, which enables plants to grow without soil. This method of growing food is already in use on Earth, they could use the same technology to build greenhouses.
Source: Art by @EashanMisra via Twitter
Musk recently unveiled Tesla's new car, the Cybertruck, he mentioned it will be the official car of Mars. They sure will face a lot of challenges but this truck will serve them as a tool to cruise the red planet's rough terrain. [Read: SpaceX and Tesla crossover event: Cybertruck will be the official car of Mars]
2025 - 2027: First Mars Colony
By the year 2025, Musk envisions the Mars colony taking shape. Mars colony could evolve into a small city by now with greenhouses and that habitats that will enable more astronauts to arrive and live sustainably on the red planet.
More Cargo and Crew on Mars
By 2027 and every two years after, SpaceX could send more ships to Mars. As the decade comes to an end, SpaceX expects to have a settlement on Mars.
So it will take about 20 years to transfer a million tons to Mars Base Alpha, which is hopefully enough to make it sustainable— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 7, 2019
2050: Sustainable City on Mars
Musk envisions that transforming humanity into a space-faring civilization, and building a sustainable city on Mars would be achieved by the year 2050. He has mentioned that there’s a 70% chance he will visit the Mars colony in his lifetime, “probably people will die,” he said, “ultimately, it will be very safe to go to Mars, and it will be very comfortable.”
Musk founded SpaceX under the belief that life is more exciting if humanity explores the stars. Colonizing Mars is beneficial to our species in case Earth has an apocalypse --conciousness would be preserved on humanity's second home planet.
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.