SpaceX’s mission to Mars could take place in as little as four years time, according to founder and CEO Elon Musk.
“I think we have a fighting chance of making that second Mars transfer window,” Musk told Mars Society founder Dr. Robert Zubrin in a recent zoom call.. The ‘transfer window’ Musk refers to is a window of opportunity to go to Mars in 2024.
Launch windows for missions to Mars are determined by the Earth's optimal position in orbit as it relates to Mars, with the window opening around every 780 days. The next launch window, which SpaceX is planning to miss, will take place in 2022.
This launch will make use of the SpaceX Starship vehicle currently under development in SpaceX's South Texas facility. It's designed as a rocket-and-spacecraft combo for ferrying cargo and humans.
But while SpaceX is ambitious, the Starship is not quite ready yet. Musk indicated SpaceX would "probably lose a few ships" before development on the Starship was sturdy enough to carry humans to Mars.
The vehicle is currently in the very early prototype testing phase, with early models planned to make it to orbit by 2021 if everything goes accordingly.
Musk's vision for a SpaceX Mars trip is clear, but there is potential for the date to shift, with Musk indicating the 2024 date is just a guess. With the Starship still so early in development, it's likely this timeline could be pushed out even further to the next Mars launch window or beyond.
As it stands, the 2024 Mars mission isn't designed to set up the Mars colony Musk has often spoken about, but it will focus on simpler tasks such as carrying cargo and taking humans to and from the red planet.
"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," Zubrin said in his chat to Musk. The initial trip would be the first step in a theorised leap to living on Mars, with the Starship's capabilities being built on long into the future.
With 4G coming to moon, could Mars be next? It's only a matter on time (and space).