Elon Musk has set out his vision for the future of the SpaceX spacecraft and its planned mission to Mars, including announcing that he believes the first mission to Mars could take place as early as 2024.
Musk discussed the plans for the spaceship in a talk at the Mars Society 2020 virtual conference, first presented by space.com. When asked about the schedule for future progress in getting the spacecraft into orbit, Musk shared his expectations that it could enter orbit as early as next year.
"We're obviously venturing into uncharted territory, so it's not like I have all this secret information and I'm just keeping it out of people," Musk said with a laugh. “These are just guesses. I would say I'm 80 to 90% confident that we will get into orbit with Starship next year – I think 50 or 60% we can get the ship and booster back. That is rather a delicate situation. We'll likely lose a couple of ships before we really get the atmospheric return and landing right. "
Musk was usually confident of losing ships in testing, as a number of Starship prototypes were destroyed in pressure tests in recent years. But every failed test brings the company closer to its goal.
"We'll likely be operating high volume flights in 2022," Musk said. “So in a few years. I try to make sure that our rate of innovation is increasing and not decreasing. "
Regarding reaching Mars, Musk postulated that based on an accelerating rate of innovation, SpaceX could send an unmanned mission to Mars in perhaps four years. He mentioned that the Earth's timeline is closest to Mars every 26 months, when spacecraft can be put into what is known as a Hohmann transfer orbit to get them to Mars as efficiently as possible.
This summer there was a window as to why three missions to Mars were launched – the NASA Perseverance mission, the UAE Hope mission and the China Tianwen-1 mission.
Musk estimated that in about four years SpaceX could be ready to send a spaceship to Mars, not the next window, but the next window. "I think we have a chance to make this second transfer window," he said.