7 2 3 4 5 6Mars Society Switzerland
The decision of Elon Musk to build a new heavy launcher, "Falcon Heavy", opens new prospects for the exploration of Mars.
Feasibility of inhabited flights to Mars
50 years after Gagarin's flight and 38 years after Apollo program last mission, the U.S. private sector is preparing a renaissance of the space adventure. Elon Musk, founder in 2002 of the “SpaceX” company (after selling at a very high price the financial company Paypal that he had remarkably boosted over a very short period of time), announced, on April 5, that he decided to undertake the construction of a new heavy-lift launcher, "Falcon Heavy," which should be capable of putting a mass of 53 tons on Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The maiden flight should take place in 2013. After the successful launch of "Falcon 9" on February 9th 2010, the orbiting and recovery on the ground on December 8th 2010 of a capsule ("Dragon") capable of carrying a payload of 6 tons (or a crew 7 people), this statement must be taken very seriously. The capacity of Falcon Heavy is far superior to that of all other launchers currently in use or that have existed, with the exception of the Saturn V rocket of the NASA Apollo lunar program. It is in particular greater than that of the last "public" American heavy launcher, Delta IV, designed and built by Boeing for the Department of Defense (the Pentagon) that can place onto orbit a 23 tons load (the same as Ariane V in its current version). The first stage of Falcon Heavy will consist of three cores, each one identical to that which makes the first stage of Falcon 9. The 9 motors of each core will be upgraded "Merlin" motors (burning kerosene with liquid oxygen) which were developed by SpaceX for Falcon 9. SpaceX designed the structure of the first stage of Falcon 9 to allow it carrying the additional loads resulting from this new configuration (mass of propellant, tanks, engines, etc ...). The development of the new launcher should thus be facilitated and its cost reduced.
An important feature of Falcon Heavy is that the side boosters will burn their fuel before the main core. This will endow it with performances comparable to a three-stage rocket. Another advantage is the excellent mass ratio (full / empty) of the side boosters, which will be 30 (against 10 for Delta IV). Ultimately, for 1 / 3 the cost of Delta IV, Falcon Heavy should be able to put onto orbit twice the mass. The launch price should be within a range of 80 to 125 million dollars against 435 million dollars budgeted by the Pentagon on the basis of traditional launchers. It is a prospect which should look very attractive at this time of severe financial constraints (furthermore, Falcon 9 could perform up to 6 ton loads launches for a price of 50 to $ 60 million each). On the basis of this information, Dr. Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society, stated: “The fact that SpaceX is on track to field such a vehicle within the next two years puts the lie to all those who claim that a heavy-lift vehicle program would require decades of delay and tens of billions in cost.” “Mr. Musk has also announced plans to follow up this vehicle with a 150 metric ton to orbit booster within the next few years. Such a booster would be adequate to send humans to the Red Planet using a plan like ‘Mars Direct’. We CAN have humans on Mars within this decade. We simply need to choose to embrace the challenge.” After the success of Falcon 9, Elon Musk makes us dream that the impetus of the U.S. private sector initiative break the routine that seems to freeze man shuttling endlessly back and forth between Earth and the International Space Station, and finally enable him to perform a true space exploration program, the next step of which can only be Mars. The U.S. Federal government will of course have to “participate” in the funding of this venture since, unlike the commercial launch of satellites orbiting Earth, it cannot be directly and immediately profitable. But the US could do so on a budget similar to that proposed by the Mars Society in its Mars Direct project: tens of billions of dollars, not hundreds as still claimed by NASA’s heirs of Wernher von Braun. Pierre Brisson
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