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April 06, 2011

Spacex Falcon Heavy could enable Mars Sample Return Missions and Other Plans from Elon Musk

Ian O'Neill (Discovery News) reports that Elon Musk believes that a successful Spacex Falcon Heavy will enable Mars Sample return

"We can realistically start to contemplate missions like a Mars sample return, which requires a tremendous amount of lift capability because you have to send a lander to Mars that still has enough propellant to return to Earth," Musk said.



Launch costs can eat up 20 to 25 percent of the budget for launching missions

NASA is partnering with the European Space Agency (ESA) on a three-step mission to return rock and soil samples from Mars to Earth. The first leg of the trip, targeted for launch in 2018, would be to fly a rover to Mars that could collect and cache samples for future pickup. A second spacecraft would land on Mars to pick up the samples and launch them into Mars orbit. A third craft would retrieve the box of samples and fly it back to Earth.

Weiler said cheaper launch vehicles may not change the mission blueprints, but it certainly would make the endeavor more affordable.

"Rising launch costs really start to crimp your ability to do missions," Weiler said.

Hobby Space had a lot of coverage on the Falcon Heavy

Hobby Space had coverage of the Spacex news conference

* Upgrade to Merlin engine to raise it from 95k lb 140k lb thrust
* Also upgrading engine production. Will make more liquid fuel engines per year than rest of world combined.
* F9H could support crew missions beyond earth orbit.
* Half the payload of Saturn V.
* Still 3 years from money for abort system to first demo launch for F9
Late stage discussions on payload customers for FH flights.
* Secondary satellites will be common on most flights.
* Expect to eventually have two processing facilities at the Cape - one for F9 and other for FH and either can roll to the pad.
* Couple of hundred new jobs at Cape
* Planning for 20 launches per year, half F9, half Fh
* Only launch provider to publicize costs.
* Others are like rug dealers
* Very confident at meeting published prices.
* Might go public toward end of next year. Need to achieve steady revenue stream
* Elon will remain controlling shareholder
* Philosophic goals will remain that a standard big aerospace contractor doesn't have.
* FH will be on pad by end of next year but getting through all the procedures may mean launch will be in 2013.
* Will do first launch on own funds.
* Difficult to get any customer to be on first launch.
* Must achieve high engine production rates. Annual rate will be higher than any country in history.
* Currently around 50-60 per year.
* Engine upgrade includes better manufacturablity
* Experience in auto industry has been help.
* Could do several hundred engines per year.
* Expect high automation but will still be hiring lot more.
* Acquiring new buildings around their facility.
* Would need to launch 4 FH per year to meet cost goals but expect to launch 10 per year
* Costs spread across F9 launches. Great commonality across F9 and FH.
* Will stick to those prices except for inflation.
* First mission is a demonstration flight. Don't have a primary customer. Several secondaries expected. Hope a primary will show up willing to go at reduced price.
* Dragon can return even from Mars not just from Moon missions.
* Can definitely do a flyby mission with FH and Dragon
* Lunar landing more complicated and not designed yet.
* Started company July 2002. Have not doubled price since then since didn't state a price goal then.
* Have kept F9 price at $50M for quite some time.
* Expect to reduce price over time. (Inflation corrected)
* Expect to get below $1000/lb as FH performance improves over time.
* Still thinking about a super heavy that would be 50% greater than Saturn V. ~150 mT.
* Will double size of team at Texas site over time.

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