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SpaceX Shows Off Its Interplanetary Transport System in New Video (techcrunch.com) 202

Elon Musk's SpaceX plans to send humans to Mars with a ship called the Interplanetary Transport System, the company announced today in a video, revealing how the ITS will actually work. The ITS will be capable of carrying up to 100 tons of cargo -- people and supplies -- and it will utilize a slew of different power sources en route to Mars. From a report on TechCrunch: SpaceX has released a new video showing a CG concept of its Interplanetary Transport System, the rocket and spacecraft combo it plans to use to colonize Mars. The video depicts a reusable rocket that can get the interplanetary spacecraft beyond Earth's orbit, and a craft that uses solar sails to coast on its way to a Mars entry. The booster returns to Earth after separating from the shuttlecraft to pick up a booster tank full of fuel, which it then returns to orbit to fuel up the waiting spaceship. The booster craft then also returns to Earth under its own power, presumably also for re-use. The solar arrays that the spacecraft employs provide 200 kW of power, according to captions in the video.The Verge is live blogging SpaceX's conference, and has details on specs.
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SpaceX Shows Off Its Interplanetary Transport System in New Video

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  • Wow (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @02:59PM (#52971157)

    That's some incredibly sophisticated vapor. Amazing!

  • by Jim Shilliday ( 3576797 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @03:10PM (#52971251)
    They show the spaceship being launched first, to be refueled by a drone tanker. Shouldn't the tanker be launched first? Unlike the spaceship, it can wait indefinitely in orbit if the second launch is delayed.
    • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @03:24PM (#52971371) Homepage

      They show the spaceship being launched first, to be refueled by a drone tanker. Shouldn't the tanker be launched first? Unlike the spaceship, it can wait indefinitely in orbit if the second launch is delayed.

      I think that whole segment is full of artistic liberty. I'm sure they'll have reuse and fuel boosters and "quick" turnaround, but the Formula One pit stop where the rocket lands right next to a fuel pod, it is hoisted in place and is ready for liftoff again is fantasy. I'd guessing that logistically they'd always do it backwards with a previously landed and refurbished rocket launching first with the fuel, then if successful a new rocket with people that afterwards lands and it refurbished. But I think it's fair to leave practical details like that out to convey the essence to non-nerds.

    • by werepants ( 1912634 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @04:41PM (#52972001)

      Consider the fact that this is a promo video, just meant to demonstrate the architecture in layman's terms. In reality, sounds like during the 2-year wait between launch windows, these things will by flying continually, bringing up cargo and fuel to prep the transports. Crews will be sent up last, right before departure. Many ships are meant to make the trip simultaneously.

    • by iris-n ( 1276146 )

      The tanker cannot really wait indefinitely, as the fuel it is holding is cryogenic (liquid methane/liquid oxygen), and boil-off is a problem.

      But yeah, they are probably going to do as you say. No point in keeping people waiting in orbit.

      • by legRoom ( 4450027 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @06:25PM (#52972645)

        No point in keeping people waiting in orbit.

        Actually, it's quite possible that the mass of the fuel that would be lost to boil-off is greater than the mass of extra life support required to keep the crew alive a couple of extra weeks.

        As for making people wait - normally people's time is considered extremely valuable, but in this case we're talking about people who voluntarily signed up to move permanently to an isolated, barren, frozen, airless wasteland covered in abrasive, (mildly?) poisonous dust. Anyone who does so would probably rather spend the time waiting in "SPAAACCCCCEEEEE!" than on Earth, anyway.

        (Or at least they think they would... perhaps sending the people up first is an opportunity to find out who's going to get cold feet before it becomes economically infeasible to bring them home? Sending up a reusable Dragon capsule to collect a few such people from LEO at the last minute is surely cheaper than dealing with the all of the horrible problems that unwilling, depressed, panicky, or constantly space-sick colonists would tend to cause.)

        • That depends entirely on the level of disciple present in the colony.


          Countrymen, the long experience of our late miseries I hope is sufficient to persuade everyone to a present correction of himself, And think not that either my pains nor the adventurers' purses will ever maintain you in idleness and sloth... ...the greater part must be more industrious, or starve...

          You must obey this now for a law, that he that will not work shall not eat (except by sickness he be disabled). For the labors of thirty or for

          • That depends entirely on the level of disciple present in the colony.

            While discipline can make a big difference, it's not a panacea. Some people will pull themselves together in response to the encouragement and/or threats of a good leader, but others won't.

            Even if they behave somewhat better on the outside out of fear of punishment, a person who is depressed, angry at their situation, or locked in a state of panic will still be less productive, less rational, and harder to get along with. Moreover, space-sickness (micro-gravity induced nausea) is a medical condition which n

        • by iris-n ( 1276146 )

          They are not planning to take weeks to fuel the spaceship. The plan is to do it in a matter of hours.

          But getting people back to Earth is not really a problem; the spaceship is going to land on Mars, refuel there, and go back to Earth anyway. So the question is only if it is coming back empty or with regretful colonists.

          Not that I expect many people to want to come back. These are people who have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for the privilege of doing hard and potentially fatal work. They may lack i

      • by joh ( 27088 )

        Boil-off of LOX and methane in space isn't an unsolvable problem and they have to solve it anyway, since they need fuel and LOX to land on Mars and if they can prevent boil-off for 6 months they also can prevent it for a few days or weeks more.

        But I agree, this video just shows it the way people expect things to look. All the details will be very different.

        • by iris-n ( 1276146 )

          I think you're right. Not only they need enough fuel to survive until the landing in Mars, they also need to fuel it there and launch it back to Earth. There's no way they'll be able to do that without active cooling. I'd be curious to know the details.

          But the most incredible aspect of the video for me was that it shows the spaceship aerobraking directly from solar orbit to landing on Mars. Like braking from interplanetary speed to zero. Nobody has ever managed to do this. Maybe what they are actually plann

    • by hitchhacker ( 122525 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @05:35PM (#52972341) Homepage
      The ship going to mars is fueled multiple times while in earth's orbit. I guess the fuel is too heavy, so they are spreading it out over multiple launches. They are talking about reusing the same tanker to do this too:

      LOREN GRUSH 3:21:49 PM EDT Tanker will go up 3 to 5 times to fill up the ship.

      https://live.theverge.com/elon... [theverge.com]

    • I dunno, they're using a reusable booster. I'd prefer to be going up on the 'virgin' launch on the booster instead of the second go around. I'd expect the second launch would be the more risky of the two.

  • They say it can transport about 100 tons. That's not much for a colonization effort. The Mayflower that transported the pilgrims to America was rated at about 180 tons. They could expect to live off the land for the most part whereas whoever takes the trip to Mars will be entirely dependent on what they bring with them. Without help from the natives it's likely that the Mayflower's people would not have done as well if they managed to survive at all. Maybe the Martians will help Musk's colonists.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by dreamchaser ( 49529 )

      The Mayflower's tonnage was around 180 tons. Tonnage is how water a ship displaces. The actual storage capacity is unknown but would have been a small amount of that.

      • Re:Tonnage (Score:4, Informative)

        by amiga3D ( 567632 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @03:38PM (#52971469)

        No, a ships displacement is measured in tons but the 180 tons of storage is just that. The estimate of Mayflower's displacement is somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 tons and total weight about 400 tons including some 130 tons of ballast. Of course all these are approximations based on the given dimensions of the ship and what was typical for the period.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @03:50PM (#52971559)
          Yeah, but the Pilgrims had to haul a lot of Bibles since the unknown wilderness they were shipped off too had Satan hiding behind every tree.

          There's no trees on Mars.
          • I know you're joking, but modern day colonists could haul a billion Bibles and not add any weight, thanks to modern storage. They also wouldn't need a printing press, for the same reason. OTOH, the printing press was used to jack the timbers and save the ship, so maybe they should have a lightweight jack on board, just in case. :)

        • Hang on. How can a ship displace 250 tons but weigh 400 tons? Or is 250 t the displacement when empty, and 400 t the loaded weight?

      • by iris-n ( 1276146 )

        -1, Pedantic.

    • They say it can transport about 100 tons. That's not much for a colonization effort. The Mayflower that transported the pilgrims to America was rated at about 180 tons.

      Yeah I can't imagine how they're going to be able to be successful, what with the requirement that they can only carry supplies that were available in the early 1600s.

      In all seriousness though, I would expect that the first several ships are going to be unmanned supply ships, and that the people would make the journey only when there are sufficient supplies and they've had repeated success landing the things on Mars. If they have 500 tons of supplies from the 21st century waiting on the surface then I'm su

    • There will be fewer people going to Mars at first than the first voyage on the Mayflower. 102 on the Mayflower- probably only a dozen going to Mars. That said, there will probably still end up being more than 180 tons sent total due to supply craft going ahead of time- and no doubt supply ships scheduled ahead of time to send more supplies after they get there.

    • There will be many ships flying simultaneously, some with more crew, some with more cargo. You don't start a 100-person colony with a single launch, it will be gradual.

    • by iris-n ( 1276146 )

      While Mars is not exactly friendly, living off the land there is actually possible. This is why people even think about colonizing it. It has water, it has sun, it has CO2. Grow plants there and so on.

      But of course no one is going to colonize it with a single 100 ton ship. The idea is to send a lot of them. 10,000 was the number Musk quoted, to get to a self-sustaining industrial civilization.

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      They say it can transport about 100 tons. That's not much for a colonization effort. The Mayflower that transported the pilgrims to America was rated at about 180 tons. They could expect to live off the land for the most part whereas whoever takes the trip to Mars will be entirely dependent on what they bring with them. Without help from the natives it's likely that the Mayflower's people would not have done as well if they managed to survive at all. Maybe the Martians will help Musk's colonists.

      Well, just like when Musk launched the Autopilot saying this is going to become our self-driving car he's exaggerating quite a bit what it'll do in the short term. It'll be an outpost, sustained by Earth resupplies and the bigger the outpost, the greater the need for resupplies. It'll be a very long time before you hit critical mass where each expansion would make it more self-reliant. It'll mostly be a proof of concept, can we expand the living quarters with on-site materials or do we need domes from earth

  • Maybe I'm missing something but why not launch the propellant tanker first and have it wait in orbit for the manned craft ?
    • They probably will do just that. Sounds like it will be two years of launching to get ready for the Mars departure window, with crews being the last to launch - this video was just meant to demonstrate the architecture concisely.

      • It takes multiple tanker runs to fully fuel one of the spaceships. They aren't likely to build enough tankers to have them all waiting in orbit for the moment eh spaceship finally launches. If it was a single run (like the video shows), it'd make sense to send the tanker first (unless boil-off is a particularly bad problem), but it's not a single run. More like 4-5 runs per spaceship.

  • Probably the most interesting bit, after the 50s-esque ship landing on mars, is the terraforming teaser at the end...

    I wanna more about that!!

    How do they plan on restarting the magnetic core?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Gary ( 9413 )

      Batteries my friend! Batteries.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by NotAPK ( 4529127 )

      "How do they plan on restarting the magnetic core?"

      I once saw a documentary on how to do this. [imdb.com] I'm not saying that you use nukes. But you use nukes.

    • by k6mfw ( 1182893 )
      if you are going to do it cheesy 50s-esque then do it right, http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-KdaW... [blogspot.com]
    • by phayes ( 202222 )

      Give mankind a few decades on Mars and we'll have Global Warming there too, we'll find a way even without Oil/Gas/Coal...

    • Not sure about the core, but to get the atmosphere going they've talked about crashing comets into the planet and nuking the polar icecaps. :)

      • That's great and all. Just one issue, without a super-heated, spinning core the atmosphere will just blow away...

        Magnets, yo!

        • Sure. But it will do so over the course of many thousands to millions of years, allowing plenty of time for "booster shots" of atmosphere. If we can create it in the first place, maintenance is probably a much easier task.

          Even among naturally preserved atmospheres, there are other techniques for generating a magnetosphere should we decide to create one. Venus for example has no magnetic core, and is subjected to a *much* stronger solar wind, yet manages to hold on to it's atmosphere thanks to an induced m

  • The hardest part of space travel is probably fuel economy which is why it makes little sense to see the booster rocket land on its own power. Sure, you can do it, but if you rely on your rocket engines entirely to decelerate (as the video clearly shows), you would need roughly double the fuel. Instead, what NASA and every other space agency has done, is to rely on parachutes and air resistance (yep, all the fire on the bottom of the shuttle, or a mercury capsule means that air resistance is actually slowi

    • Yes, it does make sense. They're already using the rocket engines to land. The trick is that they're landing empty, so the thrust required is tiny compared to the thrust required for launch.

    • by phayes ( 202222 )

      if you rely on your rocket engines entirely to decelerate (as the video clearly shows)

      You clearly haven't understood how Space-X plans to decelerate both stages of the ICT. The 1st stage will use atmospheric resistance just like the Falcon 9 does and the video clearly shows the ICT 2nd stage using atmospheric drag from 3:40 to 3:45 before moving on to terminal rocket deceleration.

    • All you really need for re-use is extra fuel - the legs and fins don't add a lot of mass. In addition, you still get a ton of atmospheric deceleration to help you out on the way down, and the rocket is far lighter on the return trip so you don't need to burn as much fuel for the same acceleration as you do when you are taking off with a full load.

      So, all told, it's about 7% of fuel set aside to enable reuse. Pretty small price to pay to save your entire rocket. It also lessens your payload - but all the pro

    • by Required Snark ( 1702878 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @04:54PM (#52972089)
      Space-X is about optimization for launch systems, not optimization of a rocket. That's why they are so focused on reuse. It's the best way to bring down system costs in the long run.

      For example, the Saturn V used two different kinds of fuel: LOX with RP-1 and liquid hydrogen. This optimized performance for the 1st stage booster vs the upper stages. This increased the cost and complexity of the ground support. SpaceX uses only one kind of fuel for all stages. This reduces complexity and cost.

      If you build a booster stage that is robust enough to return with only aerobreaking, it is going to weigh more and be more complex. You pay for that extra weight for every launch. Note that some of the structure is only used for re-entry and is dead weight on the way up. Breaking with the engines means they are used both on the way up and the way down.

      As Musk points out in his presentation, fuel is the cheapest component of the launch system. Therefor it makes economic sense to use more fuel to land the launch stages, which are the expensive components.

      The people at SpaceX are not dumb. They came up with a different solution because they framed the problem differently. Rockets are hard, and there is not a single best way to build them. There are a lot of projects that use vertical powered landing: McDonald-Douglas DC-X and Blue Origin New Shepard are examples and NASA funded various prototypes. Aerobreaking is not the only reasonable option.

      • you build a booster stage that is robust enough to return with only aerobreaking, it is going to weigh more and be more complex. You pay for that extra weight for every launch.

        On the contrary. The heaviest part of the booster IS the fuel so using less of it (essentially zero by aerobraking) drops the cost of the entire system.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Sure, you can do it, but if you rely on your rocket engines entirely to decelerate (as the video clearly shows), you would need roughly double the fuel.

      Agreed, but the real question is what are they replacing the expended fuel with? I mean, so that the landing mass is roughly the same as the launch mass. Because that's the only way you would need roughly double the fuel.

      On a more serious note, they've already been landing boosters this way. In Earth gravity. Furthermore, how the fuck are your parachutes going to help land on a planet with little-to-no atmosphere?

      You play KSP, so it's totally reasonable to expect that you know better than an entire co

    • by iris-n ( 1276146 )

      Parachutes are shit for precision landing. But the reason they can get away with using mostly rocket power to land is that the first stage is mostly empty by that time, and rather light. So a little bit of firing is enough to brake it completely, requiring little fuel. In fact, the first stage is so light that they only use one of the nine engines to propulsively land it.

    • if you rely on your rocket engines entirely to decelerate (as the video clearly shows), you would need roughly double the fuel

      No, it can be done with much less than double the fuel. The trick is that the boost-back and landing burns take place after the second stage and payload have separated from the booster. Thus, because the booster is much lighter on the way down than it was on the way up, it can decelerate itself with relatively little fuel. (On a two-stage rocket, the empty first stage typically weighs significantly less than the fully-fuelled second stage and payload.)

      SpaceX has already demonstrated this experimentally with

  • by A10Mechanic ( 1056868 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @03:57PM (#52971633)
    Heavy lift for the Saturn V was: ~90,000 lbs of end-payload, for a trip to the moon. This new thing is 200,000 lbs or payload, so more than twice the heavy lift capacity of the biggest rocket the U.S. ever made, unless they break it up into smaller component launches. I want to be there when that rocket launches, albeit at a safe distance! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
    • Seriously - apparently there will be some serious seismic activity created by one of these launches, and if there's a "rapid unplanned disassembly" on the launch pad, the destructiveness will rival that of a smallish nuke.

    • I was at the Lunar Lander challenge, for the X-Prize a few years ago.

      The problem with being at a "safe distance" is that it is so far away that you can barely see anything, except when the rocket is REALLY high up. We watched the entire thing on gigantic TV monitors, despite being "there." It's still a cool experience - sort of like a music concert, except for science, but don't think being there will give you a good view (at least not if you're a safe distance away!)

  • So let's say I save up $200k for a ticket to Mars. How do I sustain myself when I get there ? become an "organic" potato farmer ? Plus the return trip seems to only involve returning the capsule for re-use, not a large payload of people or manufactured goods or raw materials. Mars needs an economy as well as an atmosphere.
    • You'll be well-educated enough to get a job building the propellant resupply plant. Indeed, if you work it right, you'll get them to front for your ticket. $200K is not really much of a barrier anyway. Your real ticket will be in the skills you can offer,

    • by Jeremi ( 14640 )

      I'm pretty sure that transport costs will be prohibitive for MarsEarth shipping of just about anything that can also be found on Earth. Mars might need an economy, but sending raw materials or manufactured good back to Earth won't be the basis of that economy.

  • Why hasn't anyone pointed that out yet? o.O

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