An H-IIA rocket with United Arab Emirates' Mars orbiter Hope lifts off from Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima, southern Japan Monday, July 20, 2020. A United Arab Emirates spacecraft rocketed away Monday on a seven-month journey to Mars, kicking off the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission. (Hiroki Yamauchi/Kyodo News via AP)

SpaceX is nearly ready to begin erecting a permanent human territory on Mars with its large Starship rocket.

The private spaceflight company moving to launch its initial uncrewed mission to Mars in as short as four years from now, SpaceX’s founder and CEO Elon Musk announced on Friday (Oct. 16) at the International Mars Society Convention.

“I think we have a fighting chance of making that second Mars transfer window,” Musk said in a discussion with Mars Society founder Robert Zubrin. You can watch a replay of the talk here.

The window Musk cited is a launch opening that emerges every 26 months for mission to Mars. NASA, China and the United Arab Emirates all launched missions to mars in July of this year. The next window opens in 2022 but Musk was referring to the 2024 Mars launch opening.

The mission will be launched to the Red Planet on a SpaceX Starship vehicle, a reusable rocket-and-spacecraft combo that is presently under improvement at the company’s South Texas facility. SpaceX is also intending to use Starship for missions to the moon commencing in 2022, as well as point-to-point trips around the Earth.

Musk has previously announced that it is important for humans to create a permanent and self-sustaining existence on Mars to guarantee “the continuance of consciousness as we know it” — should Earth become uninhabitable by something like a nuclear war or an asteroid strike.

But SpaceX has no strategies to actually build a Mars base. As a transportation company, its sole goal is to transport cargo (and humans) to and from the Red Planet, promoting the improvement of someone else’s Mars base.

“SpaceX is taking on the biggest single challenge, which is the transportation system. There’s all sorts of other systems that are going to be needed,” Mars Society founder Robert Zubrin said during the convention.

“My personal hope is that we’re gonna see Starship in the stratosphere before this year’s out, and if Elon is right, reach orbit next year or the year after,” Zubrin added. “This will change people’s minds as to what is possible. And then, you know, we’ll have NASA seeking to fund the remaining pieces of the puzzle or entrepreneurs stepping forward to develop remaining pieces of the puzzle.”

If Musk’s predictions are correct, SpaceX’s first Mars mission would have to launch in the year that NASA astronauts return to the moon under the Artemis program.

On Friday, Musk said that if not for the orbital mechanics that call for Mars launches every 26 months, SpaceX “would maybe have a shot of sending or trying send something to Mars in three years,” Musk said, adding that Earth and Mars won’t be in the best position. “But the window is four years away, because of them being in different parts of the solar system.”

SpaceX is presently developing another Starship prototype, called SN8, for a 12-mile-high (20 kilometers) test flight in the near future.


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