Elon Musk has laid out his vision for the future of the SpaceX Starship and its planned mission to Mars, including sharing that he believes the first uncrewed mission to Mars could happen as soon as 2024.
Musk discussed the plans for the Starship in a talk given at the 2020 Mars Society Virtual Conference, first highlighted by space.com. When asked about the timeline for future progress on getting the Starship into orbit, Musk shared his expectations that it could reach orbit as soon as next year.
“We’re obviously venturing into unknown territory so it’s not as though I have all these secret dates and I’m just keeping them from people,” Musk said with a laugh. “These are just guesses. I’d say I’m 80 to 90% confident we will reach orbit with Starship next year — I think probably 50 or 60% that we’ll be able to bring the ship and booster back. That’s more of a dicey situation. We’ll probably lose a few ships before we really get the atmospheric return and landing right.”
Musk has been typically sanguine about losing ships in testing, as a number of Starship prototypes have been destroyed in pressure tests over the last several years. But each failed test brings the company closer to its goal.
“We’ll probably be doing high volume flights in 2022,” Musk said. “So a couple of years from now. I’m trying to make sure that our rate of innovations increases, and that it doesn’t decrease.”
As for reaching Mars, Musk postulated that, based on an accelerating rate of innovation, SpaceX could send an uncrewed mission to Mars in maybe four years. He mentioned the timeline of Earth is at its closest to Mars every 26 months, when spaceships can be launched into what’s called a Hohmann transfer orbit to carry them to Mars in the most efficient way possible.
There was a window this summer, which was why three missions were launched to Mars — the NASA Perseverance mission, the UAE Hope mission, and the China Tianwen-1 mission.
Musk estimated that SpaceX may be ready to send a Starship to Mars in, not the next window, but the one after that, in approximately four years time. “I think we’ve got a fighting chance of making that second transfer window,” he said.