ELON Musk hopes to take people to Mars within the next decade on a brand new rocket built by his company, SpaceX.
He’s up against stiff competition from Nasa and China who are both aiming to launch their own astronauts to the Red Planet in the 2030s.
SPACEX’S MARS ROCKET
SpaceX is currently developing a stainless steel launch system called Starship that the California company will use for trips to the Moon, Mars and beyond.
It’s made up of two stages: A powerful Super Heavy rocket booster topped with a bullet-shaped spacecraft, which is also called Starship.
Starship is in the early stages of development, and trial launches have thus far taken the form of high-altitude flights of a few miles.
SpaceX plans to reach orbit with the rocket in an unmanned flight within the next few months.
The finished vehicle will stand 394ft (120 metres) tall and boast a gleaming set of SpaceX's new Raptor engines, which have been developed over the past decade.
Super Heavy will initially sport 29 Raptors, and future versions will have 32 of the engines, Musk has said.
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The 165-foot-tall (50 meters) upper stage will sport be powered by six additional Raptors.
The launch system will be capable of carrying up to 100,000 kg (220,000 lbs) to low-Earth orbit.
That's more than the 95,000 kg offered by Nasa's upcoming Space Launch System that the agency hopes to use for trips to Mars.
SpaceX is building and testing Super Heavy and Starship at its Starbase facility in southern Texas.
Eventually, according to Musk, the spacecraft could carry up to 100 people per flight.
WHEN WILL STARSHIP REACH MARS?
Musk and SpaceX have repeatedly set and missed deadlines for the launch system's first trip to Mars.
Currently, they're targeting a first unmanned launch to orbit as early as March, according to the billionaire.
He anticipates the flight to fail but says he's confident that Starship will reach orbit by the end of this year.
The spacecraft's first trip to the Red Planet is scheduled for 2024, where it will enter the Martian orbit.
That would take the form of an unmanned flight carrying cargo and scientific experiments.
WHEN WILL SPACEX TAKE ASTRONAUTS TO MARS?
The timeline for a manned Starship flight to Mars is, understandably, fairly ambiguous.
What we do know is that SpaceX has a number of major milestones to hit before it can even think about getting astronauts to the Red Planet.
Musk said in December that he wants Starship to loop around the Moon "maybe as soon as 2023" and land on its surface "within three years".
He also claimed that SpaceX could land on Mars by 2026.
"I'll be surprised if we’re not landing on Mars within five years," he said.
Assuming all of that goes to plan, the very earliest the company will land astronauts on the Moon is around 2028.
Most likely it will be a lot later than that as inevitable issues and delays push the timeline back.
MUSK’S MARTIAN CITY
Musk, who has a child with kooky Canadian pop artist Grimes, wants to put a million people on the Red Planet by 2050.
In a series of tweets in 2020, the mogul outlined how his Starlink plans would open up space travel to anyone, regardless of their income.
"Needs to be such that anyone can go if they want, with loans available for those who don't have money," he wrote.
Musk's plan involves building a 1,000-strong fleet of Starship vehicles, which comprise a huge rocket topped by a bullet-shaped spacecraft.
He recently hired more than 250 extra SpaceX employees in two days to help the company reach this lofty goal.
According to Musk, SpaceX aims to build 1,000 Starships at a facility in South Texas over a 10-year period.
That's 100 rockets per year – a pretty tall feat considering the firm hasn't built a single functioning Starship yet.
Eventually, the Tesla boss added, the goal would be to launch 1,000 Starship flights to Mars every year – an average of three per day.
Each trip would see 100 passengers make their way to the Red Planet to become citizens of a Mars megacity.
Musk was a little vague on what, exactly, colonists would do once they got there. "There will be a lot of jobs on Mars!" he tweeted.
Based on Musk's projections, it would take a fleet of 1,000 Starships around nine years to carry a million people to Mars.
That's assuming the company really does manage to send up 300 people a day, of course.
When you add the ten years required to build the fleet, the scheme needs to begin within the next decade to have any chance of meeting Musk's 2050 target.
He didn't specify what each rocket would need to carry, but a trunk-full of food, water, fuel and life support systems is a given.
WHO ELSE IS TRYING TO GET TO MARS?
Nasa has said that it hopes to land astronauts on Mars in the 2030s.
To do that, it first needs to get its new SLS rocket up and running. The spacecraft's first flight is scheduled for March or April.
It'll be topped by Nasa's new Orion capsule, which will provide the basis for missions to the Moon as well as the Red Planet.
China also has its eyes set on our arid neighbour after successfully landing a rover there last year.
The China National Space Administration plans its first manned mission to Mars in 2033.
In other news, a four-tonne chunk of a SpaceX rocket is on a collision course with the Moon, according to online space junk trackers.
Boeing has sunk $450million into a flying taxi startup that hopes to whisk passengers across cities by the end of the decade.
Personalised smart guns, which can be fired only by verified users, may finally become available to U.S. consumers this year.
And, scientists are embarking on a mission to unravel the mystery behind dozens of grisly child mummies buried in an underground tomb in Sicily.
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