Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has gone back to the drawing board with his plans for manned missions to Mars, and said he hopes to make his current space rockets redundant with a new vehicle code named BFR.
The rocket will stand 100 metres tall with 31 engines to lift a payload of more than 4,000 tons into space. Its interplanetary vehicle will be just 48 metres long and will feature 40 cabins, each capable of carrying three people.
But Musk claims the cost will be much cheaper than other launch vehicles due to its ability to safely return to earth and be reused.
"It's really crazy that we build these sophisticated rockets and then crash them every time we fire," he said in a presentation at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide. "It really shows how fundamental reusabilty is."
SpaceX has achieved 16 successful landings in a row, and in the next version of its rockets the legs were considered optional, Musk said.
"We believe the precision at this point is good enough for propulsive landing that we do not need legs for the next version," he said. "It will land with so much precision, it will land back on its launch mounts."
Musk said he believed his program could be funded by the money his SpaceX company receives for launching satellites.
He said the BFR would also be able to service the International Space Station as well as establish human colonies on the moon and Mars. The key to the BFR being able to reach Mars or the moon would be refuelling in flight, with tanker BFRs needed to dock to refill the mission BFR with methane and oxygen.
For a moon mission, the BFR would need to refuel on its way to the moon, and would have enough propellant to return back to Earth, whereas the rocket would need to be refilled on the way to Mars, and then need to produce fuel on the surface of Mars for the return journey to Earth. Due to Mars' low gravity, the rocket would not need a booster stage to leave the red planet.
Musk said SpaceX had already started building the BFR systems, with production of the rocket to start in the second quarter of next year, and the first launch to happen in five years. The company expects to land two cargo ships on Mars in 2022 to place power, mining, and life support infrastructure for future flights, followed by a two-crew and two-cargo mission to build up a base on Mars.
The SpaceX CEO also said the BFR would be able to function like an airliner, and reach anywhere on Earth in under an hour, with most long distance trips able to be covered in less than half an hour.
"If we are building this thing to go to the moon and Mars, why not go to other places on Earth as well?" Musk said.
Later on Friday, Musk will travel to Jamestown in South Australia's mid north where his Tesla company is building the world's largest lithium-ion battery, which will play an integral part of the state's AU$550 million energy plan to avoid major blackouts and electricity shortages.
The Neoen Hornsdale Wind Farm will be paired with Tesla's 100MW/129MWh battery to store power generated by the turbines that can be released into the network to ensure greater stability for the grid.
"At 100MW and 129MWh, the Hornsdale Power Reserve will become not only the largest renewable generator in the state, but also home to the largest lithium-ion battery in the world, with our company's long-term direct investment in South Australia growing to almost AU$1 billion since 2013," Neoen deputy CEO Romain Desrousseaux said when the battery was announced in July.
"South Australian customers will be the first to benefit from this technology, which will demonstrate that large-scale battery storage is both possible and, now, commercially viable."
CEO Elon Musk has guaranteed that Tesla will deliver the battery within 100 days of the grid interconnection agreement being signed with the South Australian government -- otherwise, his company will provide the battery for free.
He stood by that promise during his first visit to Adelaide earlier this year.