Author Topic: Financing SpaceX's Mars plans  (Read 88205 times)

Online CJ

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Re: Financing Spacex's Mars plans
« Reply #20 on: 07/05/2014 10:35 PM »
Based on other long-range business plans I've seen in practice, my guess is that SpaceX's plans (for Mars, or anything else) contain fewer and fewer details the further out into the future they are.

For example, I rather doubt that, 5 years ago, they had detailed plans for the landing legs and grid fins of the F9R. It seems to me that they basically start with a concept (reusable first stage) and add details as the design progresses, making changes as needed.

Therefor, I'm guessing that regarding Mars, their plans are very vague beyond what's been said. The only exception to this that I can see is having an economic model in mind, because without an economic model to make it work, the rest is quite pointless.

I'll make some wild guesses as to what the economic models might be;
#1, land/stakehold. Sell or leverage Martian land. This is very viable long term, but not short term; currently, without infrastructure and transportation, it's not worth much.

#2, filling the needs of Lunar, GEO, and LEO resupply. We're taking 20 years into the future here, so hopefully there will be a lot more (and hence more demand) for consumables (fuel, water, food, solar cells, raw materials, etc) to service manned and unmanned infrastructure (refuelable satellites, orbital tugs, manned outposts, etc). It's a lot easier to get from Mars' surface to LEO than it is from earth's surface (less delta/v) and even easier to get to higher energy orbits. So, if you have a reusable transportation system that utilizes Martian resources for the return leg fuel, you have the intrinsic ability to ship Martian resources to cislunar space on vehicles that would otherwise be coming back empty. As an example, the delta/v needed to get from Earth to LEO is (depending on acceleration; lower G equals more gravity losses) 9.5 to 10 kps. From Mars surface to LEO is 10kps, but, 3.8 kps of that can be done via aerocapture/airobreaking instead of propulsive. It only gets easier to GTO, GEO, the earth's Lagrange points, etc.  So, if you need, say, water, at a station in LEO or at Lagrange 2, it's cheaper in Delta/v to ship it from Mars than from earth (a lot cheaper to L2).

#3 Tourism.     

#4 paid research (including government missions).

#5, amortize the development and operational cost of the earth launch system (BFR) by using it for commercial launches in cislunar space. If it's a very low cost per pound, there would be some demand. If it isn't low cost per payload pound, BRF makes no sense for either this or Mars.

My guess is some combination of the above. 

Edit to add: once you can show an economic potential for return on investment, it should, theoretically, be possible to finance (via venture capital) the initial startup costs - much akin to many business plans. My guess is this could be viable at about the point of having MCT operation, plus some ISRU in place.
« Last Edit: 07/05/2014 11:38 PM by CJ »

Offline UberNobody

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Re: Financing Spacex's Mars plans
« Reply #21 on: 07/05/2014 10:52 PM »
In order to get NASA on board, the BFR has to be operational, with the MCT development almost complete.  Even then, NASA may only contract BFR for it's own missions. 

The best way to convince NASA to get involved would be science.  Have NASA pay to send experiments, collect data, and bring back Mars rocks.  Sell a ticket to NASA for an astronaut to come along and supervise those experiments.  Selling science could go a long way towards funding the first few missions.  It won't help development costs, but assuming Elon is willing to sell Tesla stock, that hopefully won't be a problem.

Offline meekGee

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Re: Financing Spacex's Mars plans
« Reply #22 on: 07/05/2014 11:27 PM »
I think this convincing will reach critical mass when SpaceX lands the first payload on Mars.  Which I hope will be 2016, since both FH and DV2 will be ready by then.

As far as I know, Red Dragon is projected for a 2022 launch (two years after the NASA 2020 sample collecting rover). Of course, a Dragon to Mars could in theory be launched in 2016 as you said (and could also serve as a precursor to the 2020 Red Dragon, perhaps with a sample-collection drill or small rover on board, to collect samples for a quite large onboard analysis suite).

I am looking at it from SpaceX's point of view.

There are two ways to estimate their schedule based on what we know from them.

----

One method to rely on "People on Mars in 10-12 years" and work backwards.  If they launch a scout mission in 2016 with the sole purpose of starting to get a clue on Mars EDL, long-duration flight, solar navigation, etc, then they can plan to do a first round of meaningful payloads in 2018 to start getting a clue about surface operations (these are all things it took NASA several successive missions to get good at), then do a second round of missions in 2020 - just in order to be half-way competent by the time they plan to have BFR ready, because they don't want to do all this learning with MCT-sized payloads.

That's a very tight schedule which they NEED to follow IF they intend to do manned missions soon afterwards.

---

The other method is to look at the critical items needed for a Mars flight.

The first item is a big enough rocket.  They need FH, and it looks like it will be ready for a 2016 launch.
The second item, if they want a surface mission, is DV2.  Again, it looks like it will be ready for an unmanned flight by then.
There are several others, including mission design itself, including a meaningful payload for DV2, ground communication infrastructure (or an agreement for using DSN),  etc.

...

However, there's zero evidence that this is the schedule.  In fact, not having heard even rumor 1 about it, at this late stage, kinda speaks against it.  Hence "Hope" above, and not "think"....

But if they can't get a Mars mission out in 2016 or 2018 at the latest, I don't see how they'll have people on Mars in 10-12 years.   10-12 years is 5-6 launch windows.  If you say you will land people on Mars in 10-12 years, it means you have those 5-6 launch windows planned out.

If MY is "Mars Year", then:

MY-0:   People on Mars (presumably using MCT/BFR)
MY-2:   MCT/BFR unmanned flight - prove the system with unmanned flight, test new EDL
MY-4:   Dragon/FH system second round of payload - lessons learned, scale-up.
MY-6:   Dragon/FH system first round of payloads - learn/prove surface ops, add some orbital assets
MY-8:   Dragon/FH system first flight to Mars - learn/prove EDL, navigation, communication

That's 10 years if each stage worked to plan.  If any proved problematic, it's 12.

That's all I'm saying.   Something's got to give.   Either they are in a more advanced state than we know, or 10-12 is looking iffy.
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Offline GregA

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Re: Financing Spacex's Mars plans
« Reply #23 on: 07/05/2014 11:28 PM »
I'll make some wild guesses as to what the economic models might be;
#1, land/stakehold.
#2, filling the needs of Lunar, GEO, and LEO resupply. <snip> So, if you need, say, water, at a station in LEO or at Lagrange 2, it's cheaper in Delta/v to ship it from Mars than from earth (a lot cheaper to L2).
#3 Tourism.     
#4 paid research (including government missions).
#5, amortize the development and operational cost of the earth launch system (BFR) by using it for commercial launches in cislunar space.
Earlier the land/stakehold was suggested as a way of funding the startup of Mars. Here you're suggesting it might be an ongoing economic model.

Both economic models important. Expensive initial settlement vs cheaper ongoing settlement funding, and EM clearly wants to enable the cheaper ($500k/person) settlement possibility which does have other requirements. I think the ongoing economics are important but there have been many threads about it. Perhaps it'd be interesting to have a thread to guess at EM's vision of the ongoing economics, because I don't think that's been made at all clear (too far out, and I think he believes it'll become self evident over time).

But this thread question was about funding that startup of Mars, if we don't stick to the question it'll become just another thread. How does he finance the initial settlement (which might be $5billion?, $40billion? $100billion?).

Online CJ

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Re: Financing Spacex's Mars plans
« Reply #24 on: 07/05/2014 11:49 PM »
I'll make some wild guesses as to what the economic models might be;
#1, land/stakehold.
#2, filling the needs of Lunar, GEO, and LEO resupply. <snip> So, if you need, say, water, at a station in LEO or at Lagrange 2, it's cheaper in Delta/v to ship it from Mars than from earth (a lot cheaper to L2).
#3 Tourism.     
#4 paid research (including government missions).
#5, amortize the development and operational cost of the earth launch system (BFR) by using it for commercial launches in cislunar space.
Earlier the land/stakehold was suggested as a way of funding the startup of Mars. Here you're suggesting it might be an ongoing economic model.

Both economic models important. Expensive initial settlement vs cheaper ongoing settlement funding, and EM clearly wants to enable the cheaper ($500k/person) settlement possibility which does have other requirements. I think the ongoing economics are important but there have been many threads about it. Perhaps it'd be interesting to have a thread to guess at EM's vision of the ongoing economics, because I don't think that's been made at all clear (too far out, and I think he believes it'll become self evident over time).

But this thread question was about funding that startup of Mars, if we don't stick to the question it'll become just another thread. How does he finance the initial settlement (which might be $5billion?, $40billion? $100billion?).

Excellent point, and I've edited my post to clarity. BAsically, once you can demonstrate a plausible return on investment (the long term models) it should allow, couple with confidence that it's plausible, venture capital for the short term (relatively speaking) initial outlays. My guess is that the tipping point would be somewhere around the time a BFR/MCT is operational and some ISRU is in place.

If the numbers mentioned above for MCT development (BFR plus the earth/mars vehicle?) of 2.5 billion are in the ballpark, that could be mitigated by #5, amortizing the R&D via using the BFR for commercial launches in cislunar space (assuming it has a very low cost per pound to orbit, but that's a prerequisite for Mars missions too).

That begs the question, how do you finance the initial R&D to create the raptor powered BFR? Call it 2 billion... I have no idea.
How was F9 and FH financed? I don't know that either (there's no end to things of which I know not) but could BFR be done in a similar way? Perhaps, *if* SpaceX gets a large percentage of future sat launch business, they'd have the cash flow? 2.5 billion over a decade would be 250 million a year... plausible?   


Offline mrmandias

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Re: Financing Spacex's Mars plans
« Reply #25 on: 07/06/2014 02:43 AM »

I think this convincing will reach critical mass when SpaceX lands the first payload on Mars.  Which I hope will be 2016, since both FH and DV2 will be ready by then.

I believe that point will be reached when the launcher lifts a stage with more than 100t payload to LEO, refuels  and returns the second stage to earth after dropping the payload in some lunar orbit. At that point it will be very hard to ignore.

There is a pretty savvy political-financial play here, although who knows if Musk can pull it off.

The play is to become a serious enough player and a sexy enough player that your big investors/industrial partners think you are pretty likely to get USG to provide a lot of funding for you.  That provides a safe return on investment, which combined with the more speculative but also more profitable MeekGee-style self-catalyzing growth possibility, closes the business case on investing/partnering with SpaceX.  Once that happens, it becomes very, very likely that USG will provide funding, because SpaceX is now a very serious player and a very sexy one who looks like they have momentum on their side and it has big, serious players as allies and lobbyists.  In other words, its a self-fulfilling prophecy kind of thing.

So step 1 is to make the F9R work, while making noises about Mars.  The F9R makes you a serious player and makes you sexy, and the Mars noises makes you even sexier and prepares the political/cultural battlespace.

I still see more roadblocks than I do assured routes to success.  But there is a possibility there.  Unfortunately for the idealists, MOAR government funding is almost certainly part of that possibility.

Online Lar

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Re: Financing Spacex's Mars plans
« Reply #26 on: 07/06/2014 03:01 AM »
Musk has no cash at all, he has millions in debt. see:
http://www.businessinsider.com/elon-musk-borrows-150-million-to-buy-tesla-2013-5

Welcome to the forums, Cruncher. A very nice speculative theory on how things unfold. It'd be great if you were right. One nit, I'm not as concerned about his current debt as you are...
"I think it would be great to be born on Earth and to die on Mars. Just hopefully not at the point of impact." -Elon Musk
"We're a little bit like the dog who caught the bus" - Musk after CRS-8 S1 successfully landed on ASDS OCISLY

Offline mrmandias

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Re: Financing Spacex's Mars plans
« Reply #27 on: 07/06/2014 03:07 AM »
SpaceX ignoring the moon might be a good thing.  Not because the moon is such a waste of time.  No.  Paradoxically, because the moon is a relatively attractive destination.  Short travel times and therefore possible commercial uses for earth-benefiting cis-lunar applications and awesome tourism sex-appeal.  The moon is lower hanging fruit.

Suppose that SpaceX succeeds enough with F9r/FHr that they are able to attract a serious consortium of investors and big, serious industrial partners, and work on a BFR/MCR (Mars Colonial Rocket) is coming along.  The money is starting to be there for a real play at Mars settlement, politicians and NASA people are starting to throw their support behind the effort, there's buzz and momentum and the scent of money.

Meanwhile there are lots of incredibly rich, incredibly successful executives and investors out there who got that way by jumping early on emerging trends.  They are bloodhounds who scent the Next Big Thing.  (This isn't speculation, by the way, this is real life.  The existence of these people is a fact.)  A number of these guys will be part of the SpaceX Mars play in some way, but a number of them will be looking for another angle.

And lo, there's the moon, hanging bright and pluckable in the sky.

Lunar ventures start fermenting on big time drawing boards.  Some of them are coalescing into serious ventures, with capital and buzz and heft.  They start to compete with the Mars play.

But the competition is only apparent.  These ventures are mostly probably counting on using the MCR or at least the FHr to make their business case close.  Most importantly, they validate the whole idea of space expansion as the Coming Thing and provide political and commercial and technological leverage to space expansion that costs SpaceX nothing. 

A rising tide lifts all rockets.

Offline GregA

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Re: Financing Spacex's Mars plans
« Reply #28 on: 07/06/2014 03:12 AM »
He will start a new company (MarsX ? ), with the goal to "create a sustainable industrial base on mars". He will get a consortium together of chemical companies, mining companies, and probably some company able to supply nuclear reactors (like the ones used on subs and aircraft carriers). This company will design and build the hardware they need on Mars.

Liked your whole post Cruncher :) A good example of something that could work.

I think it also makes sense that SpaceX will be commercially funded by "MarsX", and even sell at a technical profit (while investing that profit and more back into MarsX at the same time).

It does position MarsX as the owner of the initial Mars base though - and either then as a profit making enterprise long term (earn back what they invested), or a philanthropy that morphs into a sustainable ongoing effort. If they earn back what they invested then it implies a higher price to be on Mars 30 years on, rather than the "kick start it and charge very little" model. CJ just mentioned the same above (when I just tried to press post :) ) "once you can demonstrate a plausible return on investment (the long term models)"... again obviously pushing to invest for a return.

Part of me likes the idea of getting mining companies (etc) involved in investing in "MarsX". At least their investment and eventual profit are tied together. But that might work against the principle of making cheap access to Mars to encourage any and all to think bigger - by saying that a 2nd mining company can't come for "cheap entry" when the 1st company one paid so much to open up the new frontier. Same goes for any industry.

Open, cheap access - to allow interested companies to make that step - might be a pipe dream. But paid long term investment, which doesn't allow open cheap access to anyone else, has been possible for a while.  EM is betting that once everything's setup, people and companies will be interested, it just takes the first leap to set it up.

Even with the philanthropic start, companies involved will be better positioned to take advantage of course - but it certainly makes it a different question for investment. Who is willing to throw money towards an idea that may not succeed long term, with no thought or plan to make that money back but rather to enable a better future?

Offline GregA

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Re: Financing Spacex's Mars plans
« Reply #29 on: 07/06/2014 03:14 AM »
Welcome to the forums, Cruncher. A very nice speculative theory on how things unfold. It'd be great if you were right. One nit, I'm not as concerned about his current debt as you are...

Actually EM's ability to fund it might be intimately tied to his ability to get others to pitch in.

If he can show Tesla growing and achieving, and a risky $5billion battery factory growing and achieving, plus Solar City redefining electricity usage, and new rockets doing great things... not only will his wealth be growing fast, but the willingness and enthusiasm from others to try something much bigger will be there.

Online Lar

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Re: Financing Spacex's Mars plans
« Reply #30 on: 07/06/2014 04:31 AM »
Welcome to the forums, Cruncher. A very nice speculative theory on how things unfold. It'd be great if you were right. One nit, I'm not as concerned about his current debt as you are...

Actually EM's ability to fund it might be intimately tied to his ability to get others to pitch in.

If he can show Tesla growing and achieving, and a risky $5billion battery factory growing and achieving, plus Solar City redefining electricity usage, and new rockets doing great things... not only will his wealth be growing fast, but the willingness and enthusiasm from others to try something much bigger will be there.

Having MarsX exist separate from SpaceX means another organization that can get venture funding and since it's another organization the funding injection doesn't dilute how much SpaceX equity Musk holds.

There's also the Google option... Page and Brin took Google public but did not really dilute the control they have since only their class of shares can vote in a meaningful way  (Class A, held publicly, gets 1 vote per share, their stock, Class B, gets 10, and the newest Class C gets  no votes at all)

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-04-03/new-google-shares-hit-market-as-founders-cement-grip-with-split.html

Google is doing so well that even the newest shares are in high demand.

« Last Edit: 07/06/2014 04:35 AM by Lar »
"I think it would be great to be born on Earth and to die on Mars. Just hopefully not at the point of impact." -Elon Musk
"We're a little bit like the dog who caught the bus" - Musk after CRS-8 S1 successfully landed on ASDS OCISLY

Offline AJW

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Re: Financing Spacex's Mars plans
« Reply #31 on: 07/06/2014 04:48 AM »
Involving governments brings red tape, strings, and bureaucrats.  I think that Musk will prefer to seek funding directly from the public since few corporations will be willing to invest when the ROI isn't possible for decades.

Instead, consider this list of names.  Collis Porter Huntington, Mark Hopkins, Charles Crocker, Leland Stanford.  Stanford, born to a farmer, organized this group to create the Central Pacific Railroad.  Look up the Pacific Railroad Acts, passed by congress to help promote and fund the development of the railways by granting land to the railroad companies.  So you made a billion at Facebook, congrats.  Want to be immortalized?  Have a spaceport named after you.  The first Mars city.  The passenger gateway at L2.  Or, you can take the cash to your grave and hope that someone writes a nice obit.

Offline meekGee

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Re: Financing Spacex's Mars plans
« Reply #32 on: 07/06/2014 05:29 AM »
Involving governments brings red tape, strings, and bureaucrats.  I think that Musk will prefer to seek funding directly from the public since few corporations will be willing to invest when the ROI isn't possible for decades.

Instead, consider this list of names.  Collis Porter Huntington, Mark Hopkins, Charles Crocker, Leland Stanford.  Stanford, born to a farmer, organized this group to create the Central Pacific Railroad.  Look up the Pacific Railroad Acts, passed by congress to help promote and fund the development of the railways by granting land to the railroad companies.  So you made a billion at Facebook, congrats.  Want to be immortalized?  Have a spaceport named after you.  The first Mars city.  The passenger gateway at L2.  Or, you can take the cash to your grave and hope that someone writes a nice obit.

Land rights are a huge deal.

What does it take to make a claim? Who recognizes claims?   

Governments indulge in red tape when they have nothing better to do.  But when it becomes as urgent as this, they can move too fast sometimes.
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Offline SoulWager

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Re: Financing Spacex's Mars plans
« Reply #33 on: 07/06/2014 09:40 AM »
Involving governments brings red tape, strings, and bureaucrats.  I think that Musk will prefer to seek funding directly from the public since few corporations will be willing to invest when the ROI isn't possible for decades.

Instead, consider this list of names.  Collis Porter Huntington, Mark Hopkins, Charles Crocker, Leland Stanford.  Stanford, born to a farmer, organized this group to create the Central Pacific Railroad.  Look up the Pacific Railroad Acts, passed by congress to help promote and fund the development of the railways by granting land to the railroad companies.  So you made a billion at Facebook, congrats.  Want to be immortalized?  Have a spaceport named after you.  The first Mars city.  The passenger gateway at L2.  Or, you can take the cash to your grave and hope that someone writes a nice obit.

Land rights are a huge deal.

What does it take to make a claim? Who recognizes claims?   

Governments indulge in red tape when they have nothing better to do.  But when it becomes as urgent as this, they can move too fast sometimes.

Earth based governments might make demands in exchange for funding, but that goes down the drain when the colony becomes self sufficient. Ultimately, any permanent colony is going to be self governing. You don't get to stake a claim to land unless you send people there. Squatters have more power over that land than someone back on earth with a piece of paper.
« Last Edit: 07/06/2014 09:41 AM by SoulWager »

Offline Mader Levap

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Re: Financing Spacex's Mars plans
« Reply #34 on: 07/06/2014 11:56 AM »
I think this convincing will reach critical mass when SpaceX lands the first payload on Mars.  Which I hope will be 2016, since both FH and DV2 will be ready by then.
I can bet serious money he will NOT launch anything towards Mars in 2016. Any speculations that assumes that is just detached from reality.

One method to rely on "People on Mars in 10-12 years" and work backwards.
10-12 years to manned mission to Mars is pure fantasy, probably based on "everything on schedule works perfectly". For that I have only two words: "Orbcomm OG2". If they can't launch one measly satellite to LEO on time, they are multiple decades away from manned mission to Mars. It is as simple as that.

If they launch a scout mission in 2016 with the sole purpose of starting to get a clue on Mars EDL, long-duration flight, solar navigation, etc, then they can plan to do a first round of meaningful payloads in 2018(...)
You seem to ignore fact that space-graded things/rockets/spacecrafts/satellites/etc tends to have multi-year (at least) leading time. Not two-year.
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Online Lar

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Re: Financing Spacex's Mars plans
« Reply #35 on: 07/06/2014 12:10 PM »
I'd say it's unlikely that anything will be launched by SpaceX towards Mars in 2016. But given the right odds, I'd take the other side of the bet... (they'd have to be long odds) Because we don't know what exactly is being worked on at present.

Further, I think MeekGee's point is that if you right to left plan from the stated goal, you almost need something launched then or else the goal is even riskier, you lost one round of precursors.
"I think it would be great to be born on Earth and to die on Mars. Just hopefully not at the point of impact." -Elon Musk
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Offline francesco nicoli

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Re: Financing Spacex's Mars plans
« Reply #36 on: 07/06/2014 12:37 PM »
I'd say it's unlikely that anything will be launched by SpaceX towards Mars in 2016. But given the right odds, I'd take the other side of the bet... (they'd have to be long odds) Because we don't know what exactly is being worked on at present.


"we have no practical news" >> "so they must be working on something" >>> " so they will launch towards Mars in 2016".

Interesting :)

Offline meekGee

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Re: Financing Spacex's Mars plans
« Reply #37 on: 07/06/2014 03:03 PM »
I think this convincing will reach critical mass when SpaceX lands the first payload on Mars.  Which I hope will be 2016, since both FH and DV2 will be ready by then.
I can bet serious money he will NOT launch anything towards Mars in 2016. Any speculations that assumes that is just detached from reality.

One method to rely on "People on Mars in 10-12 years" and work backwards.
10-12 years to manned mission to Mars is pure fantasy, probably based on "everything on schedule works perfectly". For that I have only two words: "Orbcomm OG2". If they can't launch one measly satellite to LEO on time, they are multiple decades away from manned mission to Mars. It is as simple as that.

If they launch a scout mission in 2016 with the sole purpose of starting to get a clue on Mars EDL, long-duration flight, solar navigation, etc, then they can plan to do a first round of meaningful payloads in 2018(...)
You seem to ignore fact that space-graded things/rockets/spacecrafts/satellites/etc tends to have multi-year (at least) leading time. Not two-year.

All I said was that IF you start with Elon's statement of "People on Mars in 10-12 years", THEN IMO they need to send a first payload in 2016, because there's a limited number of launch cycles, and there's a certain minimum steps in the landing curve.

I agree that both may be too optimistic.  I hope they are not too optimistic by much.  I'll take a 6 year delay, no problem.  :)   Either way it's a lot better than anyone imagined 4 years ago.

EDIT:  There is a way to shorten the lead-up to the first manned Mars landing.   I assumed that SpaceX will want to do the learning curve using FH, since MCT/BFR is more expensive.   But that's not necessarily the plan.

If you start out with only a single FH based learning mission (instead of 3), and then transition directly to MCT/BFR for your learning curve, overall lead-up time is decreased, but financial risk increases.

In that case you can do the FH flight in 2018, unmanned BFR/MCT in 2020 and 2022, and a manned landing in 2024 or 2026.
« Last Edit: 07/06/2014 03:51 PM by meekGee »
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Re: Financing Spacex's Mars plans
« Reply #38 on: 07/06/2014 08:20 PM »
Involving governments brings red tape, strings, and bureaucrats. 
You think involving corporations doesn't?  I've worked in both, and found that bureaucracy is an equal-opportunity curse.  It's an organizational phenomenon, not a strictly government.

And anyone who tells you different is selling something.
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Online docmordrid

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Re: Financing Spacex's Mars plans
« Reply #39 on: 07/06/2014 08:39 PM »
Involving governments brings red tape, strings, and bureaucrats. 
You think involving corporations doesn't?  I've worked in both, and found that bureaucracy is an equal-opportunity curse.  It's an organizational phenomenon, not a strictly government.

And anyone who tells you different is selling something.

True, but having worked both sides my experience is that the government subspecies is worse.
DM

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