Sleep Deprived Musk Stresses Urgency To Make Humans Multi-Planetary Species

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Space Exploration Technologies Corp.'s (SpaceX) chief executive officer and chief engineer, Mr. Elon Musk, reiterated his desire to make humans an interplanetary species. His comments came during the post-launch press conference for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Crew-2 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday. Musk made an appearance at the conference, having attended only one such post-launch conference following NASA's DM-2 mission last year.

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His initial statements at the event praised SpaceX engineers for their progress with the Crew Dragon, which is currently the only privately-built spacecraft capable of ting humans to low Earth orbit. However, the rest of the event focused on Musk's plans to land humans on the Moon using the upper stage spacecraft of SpaceX's Starship next-generation launch vehicle system. The executive is currently spearheading Starship development in Boca Chica, Texas, with his company having conducted four high-altitude flights of the vehicle since December.

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When asked about his "emotions" at liftoff and whether he's more comfortable with flying astronauts now than before, Musk replied:

Yeah it's very, very intense. I suppose it does get a little bit easier but it's all extremely intense. I usually can't sleep the night before the launch and that's also true for the night before this one so I haven't had much sleep. But, fortunately, we've got a great team, I'm really proud of the incredible work the team's done and the partnership with NASA. And yeah, I suppose it gets a little bit easier but it's still pretty intense I have to say[laughs]. So, um, yeah I can''s hard to believe that we're here doing this, quite frankly you know. Feels like a dream.

SpaceX's latest render for its lunar lander reveals an upgraded design with solar panels, which played a crucial part in its selection by NASA for the Artemis program. Image: SpaceX

When questioned by Eric Berger of ArsTechnica about how important it is for SpaceX to be selected by NASA for the Human Landing System (HLS) contract, he replied:

Yeah it's a great honor to be chosen by NASA to return people to the moon. It's been now almost half a century since humans were last on the moon. It's too long. We need to get back there. And uh, and have a permanent base on the moon. I think like a big permanently occupied base on the Moon. And then build a city on Mars, and become a spacefaring civilization. A multi-planet species. [While wagging finger] We don't want to be one of those single planet species. We want to be a multi-planet species.

In response to a question asking about HLS's impact on Starship design and funding, Musk stated that making a rocket fully reusable is a difficult problem and that NASA support makes a "huge difference." He reiterated his statements made on other equations that rapid reusability is key to bringing down the costs to orbit and that rapid reusability is the "gateway to heavens."

The Starship SN10 prototype successfully reignites its Raptor engines for a landing attempt. Image: Elon Musk/Twitter

Standing 394 feet tall once operational, Starship is SpaceX's multi-purpose launch vehicle designed to replace both the Falcon lineup and the Dragon capsules. The first stage or Starship Super Heavy booster is as tall as the Falcon 9 with its payload fairing (the second stage, which carries cargo) attached, with both vehicles having a height of 230 feet.

In terms of thrust (the power needed for liftoff), a fully equipped Starship will generate 72 MegaNewtons (MN) of thrust, roughly ten times of what the Falcon 9 Block 5, which sent astronauts to the ISS this week, can generate. Starship will achieve this through its full complement of 28 Raptor full-flow staged-combustion Methane-fuelled rocket engines, with each generating 2.2 kilonewtons of thrust. While 28 engines result in roughly 62 MN of thrust, SpaceX's official Starship page continues to list the vehicle's total thrust at 72 MN.

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Musk has shared his desire to use Starship to bring down Low Earth Orbit (LEO) launch costs down to $10/kg, from the roughly $3,000/kg that the Falcon 9 is believed to cost. However, to achieve this goal, SpaceX will have to establish a regular launch cadence to cover the fixed costs of its operations first.

For lunar deliveries, Musk believes that it is possible to bring costs to a range of $20 - $30/kg, assuming once again a regular launch cadence.

SpaceX's first stage Starship spacecraft rendered as it enters the Martian atmosphere. Image: SpaceX

SpaceX is set to conduct its fifth high-altitude flight test of Starship soon after successfully landing the SN10 prototype in March. Propulsion system problems continue to hamper successful execution. This prototype exploded soon after it landed as its landing legs were crushed due to low thrust from the engines causing a hard landing. With the next test using an upgraded prototype, Musk and his team are confident that they will be successful this time.

NASA's evaluation for the HLS program, which is for the agency's lunar lander for its Artemis missions, praised SpaceX's rapid Starship development and the insight provided to the space agency.

"I agree with the SEP’s [Source Evaluation Panel] assignment of a significant strength for SpaceX’s robust early system demonstration ground and flight system campaign, which focuses on the highest risk aspects of its proposed architecture. This will allow SpaceX to isolate and address performance and operational issues early in its development cycle, which will meaningfully inform the maturation of its capability and increase overall confidence in its performance abilities," noted NASA associate administrator Ms. Katherine Leuders during her evaluation for the program.