Author Topic: $500,000 Pricetag for Mars Trip  (Read 38610 times)

Online sanman

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$500,000 Pricetag for Mars Trip
« on: 11/26/2012 01:34 AM »
How serious or legitimate is Elon Musk's quote about charging people $500,000 to get to Mars? It seems that he came up with that price by estimating what people will be willing or able to pay, based on their willingness to sell their home to pay for a ticket.

So in saying that, is he then implying that he will work to get the price of space travel down to that level of affordability?

Right now, what would a ticket on Dragon cost, based on SpaceX's current expenditures? And even if it's apples and oranges, how far away is that from the $500,000 price target for a Mars trip? How much more does Musk have to improve costs in order to get to the $500,000 target, and is this feasible? Would his investors and backers find this idea acceptable?

Offline go4mars

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Re: $500,000 Pricetag for Mars Trip
« Reply #1 on: 11/26/2012 01:54 AM »
It's future stuff that can't compare to current systems.  It depends on very large reusable systems and very high flight rates.  Yes, it is serious.  It's legitimacy is challengeable, as there is no historic precedent for such cheap launches.  I'm a believer in principle.  Might not get exactly that cheap, but even at a million bucks, I think a lot of tickets would sell if Elon builds the needed hardware successfully.
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Offline Hyperion5

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Re: $500,000 Pricetag for Mars Trip
« Reply #2 on: 11/26/2012 04:50 AM »
How serious or legitimate is Elon Musk's quote about charging people $500,000 to get to Mars? It seems that he came up with that price by estimating what people will be willing or able to pay, based on their willingness to sell their home to pay for a ticket.

So in saying that, is he then implying that he will work to get the price of space travel down to that level of affordability?

Right now, what would a ticket on Dragon cost, based on SpaceX's current expenditures? And even if it's apples and oranges, how far away is that from the $500,000 price target for a Mars trip? How much more does Musk have to improve costs in order to get to the $500,000 target, and is this feasible? Would his investors and backers find this idea acceptable?


I think he simply set it as a goal that would see Mars more easily colonized.  It sounds aspirational to me, and at least one NASA astronaut has gotten rather ticked off at Musk talking about this figure or his grand claims about Mars.  The only way a price like that is remotely plausible is if Musk manages to get rocket launch costs down by at least an order of magnitude.  At least with a methane rocket engine he'll at least be able to produce a family of rockets without significant coking issues.  That just leaves the excruciating difficulty of making both stages VTVL and reusable. 


Offline mrmandias

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Re: $500,000 Pricetag for Mars Trip
« Reply #3 on: 11/26/2012 02:42 PM »
Its aspirational, though Musk feels he has a conceptual route to get there if the markets and the technology break right.  But since he hasn't made that conceptual route public, no one can tell you if it even hangs together as a concept, let alone as a potential reality.

Heck, if SpaceX can manage to bring down the price to LEO to $500k per person, that would revolutionize space flight right there.

Something Jon Goff said on his old blog is applicable here.  He said that the Japanese auto industry seized the lead back in the day by setting themselves ridiculous goals that required them to completely rethink the old way of doing things and generate new processes that didn't just lead to incremental improvements in build times, but orders of magnitude improvements.  If I recall, one of his criticisms of SpaceX is that they weren't aiming low enough on launch costs at the time.

Offline go4mars

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Re: $500,000 Pricetag for Mars Trip
« Reply #4 on: 11/26/2012 02:55 PM »
He said that the Japanese auto industry seized the lead back in the day by setting themselves ridiculous goals that required them to completely rethink the old way of doing things and generate new processes that didn't just lead to incremental improvements in build times, but orders of magnitude improvements. 
Like Tesla perhaps.

one of his criticisms of SpaceX is that they weren't aiming low enough on launch costs at the time.
I'd be surprised if that was still a criticism of his.  Elon's talked about how a large methane rocket could be $60 thousand in propellant, add in a bit of overhead, assume 1000 flights, and he's implying amazingly inexpensive price tag.  My suspicion is that if there is no competition at their price point, they would be inclined to keep charging $60 million even with a reusable first stage, and channelling any extra funds into the powered clamshell system (operational improvements), upper stage reuse, next gen rocket, etc.  I'd be surprised to see a big orbital launch for less than $5 million in the next decade.  Steady-state operation (required for really really cheap) will take significant tinkering and improvement to get to.  Except for dramatic technological breakthrough, it can't happen as fast with rockets as it happens with cars.
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Offline aero

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Re: $500,000 Pricetag for Mars Trip
« Reply #5 on: 11/26/2012 04:25 PM »
How serious or legitimate is Elon Musk's quote about charging people $500,000 to get to Mars? It seems that he came up with that price by estimating what people will be willing or able to pay, based on their willingness to sell their home to pay for a ticket.

So in saying that, is he then implying that he will work to get the price of space travel down to that level of affordability?

Right now, what would a ticket on Dragon cost, based on SpaceX's current expenditures? And even if it's apples and oranges, how far away is that from the $500,000 price target for a Mars trip? How much more does Musk have to improve costs in order to get to the $500,000 target, and is this feasible? Would his investors and backers find this idea acceptable?


I've asked this question before, but I'll ask again. That is, "How big does this system need to be in order to reach this price point?" That is, at $500,000 per person plus supplies, at what number of passengers does the ticket sales reach transport costs?

If transport costs equal $5 million, then ticket sales equal 10 passengers, but if transport costs equal $50 million, then ticket sales equal 100 passengers and we must start imagining some rather large rockets. Are we speculating about $500k/200kg ($2500/kg) end-to-end transport cost per kg?
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Offline IRobot

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Re: $500,000 Pricetag for Mars Trip
« Reply #6 on: 11/26/2012 04:33 PM »
I think the $500.000 price is for an 80.000 people colony. Can't recall where I read that... So definitely not for the first hundreds of customers.

Offline aero

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Re: $500,000 Pricetag for Mars Trip
« Reply #7 on: 11/26/2012 05:17 PM »
I think the $500.000 price is for an 80.000 people colony. Can't recall where I read that... So definitely not for the first hundreds of customers.

Ok, so that is $40 B transportation price and 80,000 times X kg/ticket. I can't guess kg/ticket, but 200 kg seems very low because the passengers will need consumables in route. Try 500 kg/ticket, 80,000 tickets times 500 kg/ticket gives 40 Mkg (40 k tonnes) then end to end transport costs are $1000 per kg. This will be spent in 3? parts, ie. LEO, LEO to low Mars Orbit, and EDL. I'm still trying to determine the size of the Earth to LEO rocket, so how much does that cost, and what % goes to the other two phases?
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Offline mlindner

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Re: $500,000 Pricetag for Mars Trip
« Reply #8 on: 11/26/2012 06:00 PM »
I think the $500.000 price is for an 80.000 people colony. Can't recall where I read that... So definitely not for the first hundreds of customers.

Ok, so that is $40 B transportation price and 80,000 times X kg/ticket. I can't guess kg/ticket, but 200 kg seems very low because the passengers will need consumables in route. Try 500 kg/ticket, 80,000 tickets times 500 kg/ticket gives 40 Mkg (40 k tonnes) then end to end transport costs are $1000 per kg. This will be spent in 3? parts, ie. LEO, LEO to low Mars Orbit, and EDL. I'm still trying to determine the size of the Earth to LEO rocket, so how much does that cost, and what % goes to the other two phases?

80,000 person colony not 80,000 per rocket trip, thats pure madness. We're not shipping the entire population of Earth to Mars. Think small airliners as max size, with increasing rates of travel driving larger craft as needed.
« Last Edit: 11/26/2012 06:01 PM by mlindner »
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Offline BobCarver

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Re: $500,000 Pricetag for Mars Trip
« Reply #9 on: 11/26/2012 06:44 PM »
I think the $500.000 price is for an 80.000 people colony. Can't recall where I read that... So definitely not for the first hundreds of customers.

Ok, so that is $40 B transportation price and 80,000 times X kg/ticket. I can't guess kg/ticket, but 200 kg seems very low because the passengers will need consumables in route. Try 500 kg/ticket, 80,000 tickets times 500 kg/ticket gives 40 Mkg (40 k tonnes) then end to end transport costs are $1000 per kg. This will be spent in 3? parts, ie. LEO, LEO to low Mars Orbit, and EDL. I'm still trying to determine the size of the Earth to LEO rocket, so how much does that cost, and what % goes to the other two phases?

And, that's just one-way. It's a round-trip ticket price!

Offline Nathan

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Re: $500,000 Pricetag for Mars Trip
« Reply #10 on: 11/26/2012 06:59 PM »
I don't think it includes the price of a home and car on mars! It is likely just the launcher capability and an estimate of the mass needed. Eg: $500 per kilogram and one tonne of person,spacesuit and supplies.
Given finite cash, if we want to go to Mars then we should go to Mars.

Offline BobCarver

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Re: $500,000 Pricetag for Mars Trip
« Reply #11 on: 11/26/2012 07:07 PM »
I don't think it includes the price of a home and car on mars! It is likely just the launcher capability and an estimate of the mass needed. Eg: $500 per kilogram and one tonne of person,spacesuit and supplies.


Good point. Elon can sell them a Tesla when they get there. Maybe that's whree the profit comes from.

Offline oldAtlas_Eguy

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Re: $500,000 Pricetag for Mars Trip
« Reply #12 on: 11/26/2012 07:26 PM »
I did some estimates and a very courious item poped up. And that was the cost of propelant on orbit. For in-space elements a price for propelant of $10/kg of LH2/LOX enabled getting to a surface to surface price per person of $600,000. All parts were 99% reusable or better. This was using a 150 person Earth surface to LEO system using methane/LOX at propelant cost on Earth of $1/kg. A 150 person LEO to EML2 transport. A 300 person Mars Liner. A 150 person Demos to Phobos transport and a 150 person Phobos to Mars surface lander.

The other curious thing was that if you used a SEP the price of the SEP prop needed to be $50/kg. The only possible source for a gass useable in the quantities needed and with a possibility to get to this price would be LH2. But it would need to be cheaper than what was needed for just a chemical rocket. LH2 part of the $10/kg of the LH2/LOX would be $60/kg.

At $1/kg for the Methane/LOX on Earth and the $10/kg LH2/LOX on orbit the total cost for propelant per person would be $100,000. With all the other costs of crew service personnel, hardware usage charges, supplies etc of less than a total of ~$350,000/person with a final item of profit of $100,000/person (about 20-25%).

Note an increase in on-orbit propelant of just $1/kg results in an increase in propelant costs of $5,000-10,000/person.

Offline aero

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Re: $500,000 Pricetag for Mars Trip
« Reply #13 on: 11/26/2012 07:46 PM »
I think the $500.000 price is for an 80.000 people colony. Can't recall where I read that... So definitely not for the first hundreds of customers.

Ok, so that is $40 B transportation price and 80,000 times X kg/ticket. I can't guess kg/ticket, but 200 kg seems very low because the passengers will need consumables in route. Try 500 kg/ticket, 80,000 tickets times 500 kg/ticket gives 40 Mkg (40 k tonnes) then end to end transport costs are $1000 per kg. This will be spent in 3? parts, ie. LEO, LEO to low Mars Orbit, and EDL. I'm still trying to determine the size of the Earth to LEO rocket, so how much does that cost, and what % goes to the other two phases?

80,000 person colony not 80,000 per rocket trip, thats pure madness. We're not shipping the entire population of Earth to Mars. Think small airliners as max size, with increasing rates of travel driving larger craft as needed.

You still don't get it, do you.

Of course it is multiple trips with a reusable transportation system. So you can understand that each trip will transport more than 1 person and less than 80,000 people. If each transit to Mars cost a total of $250 million (Just a number as a talking point) then 160 trips can be paid for. In that case, each trip must transport 500 people. If a trip can be made for only $125 million, then the transportation need accomodate only 250 people. Nathan guesses one tonne per person, so that is 250 tonnes per trip and 320 trips. On the MCT speculation thread, Modemeagle has speculated on launchers above 500 tonnes to LEO, so that part is covered for mass to LEO, I don't know about cost to LEO, though.

Now for the hard part. The Mars transport will provide for 250 people. That is not as many as an ocean liner, but a lot more than a cabin cruiser. How crowded will the mars transport be, so how massive must it be, and how much thrust must the engines provide? Or do you think the trip from LEO to low Mars orbit can be made for less than $125 million? If so, then the transport can be smaller.

But don't forget, that $125M needs to pay for launch to LEO and transport to Mars, as well as EDL on Mars. I suspect that the passenger capacity will need to be larger than 250 people in order to pay for the trip at $500,000 per ticket.

@oldAtlas_Eguy - That is getting to the point. Fuel is the one thing that can not be reusable.
« Last Edit: 11/26/2012 07:49 PM by aero »
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Offline Nathan

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Re: $500,000 Pricetag for Mars Trip
« Reply #14 on: 11/26/2012 07:47 PM »
The reusable upper stage must be refuel able on orbit then. Perhaps it will even be the lander. Possibly speculation for a different thread.
Given finite cash, if we want to go to Mars then we should go to Mars.

Offline oldAtlas_Eguy

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Re: $500,000 Pricetag for Mars Trip
« Reply #15 on: 11/26/2012 08:11 PM »
In my estimate the reusable Earth to LEO one way cargo payload had a price of $100/kg. For payload using a reusable personnel carrier the persons and their bagage of 500kg was at about $500/kg. This is 20 times less than the best possible that a FH will be able to do in the next 3 years. It is possible but will take a couple of decades to get to that price. The price of $230,000/person for this single part shows how much significance just this segment of the trip plays. and this is with a 210mt LV that can put into orbit 150 passengers for a total per flight price of $69M. This includes all costs including amoritized development as well as profit. Meaning being able to launch more than 25x more people for 1/3 the price than what is expected of DragonRider after 2015. A factor of 75-100 price improvement per person over DragonRider.

Edit: Oops wrong number for the Surface to LEO, it should be $164,000/person. The Mars Liner (EML2-Demos) was the $230,000/person. The trip from LEO to EML2 was $100,000/person and once at Mars to get to the surface it was also $100,000/person. 40% of the price is just getting to EML2.
« Last Edit: 11/26/2012 08:33 PM by oldAtlas_Eguy »

Online meekGee

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Re: $500,000 Pricetag for Mars Trip
« Reply #16 on: 11/26/2012 08:44 PM »
I really don't like this quote of Elon.

First of all, the only thing that's even remotely possible to estimate is transport cost, not price.  Any large scale movement of people to Mars will happen within a larger context of an economic food chain...

The price of transportation will be intimately tied to everything else that goes with such an endeavor - housing and other infrastructure, working terms, etc.  If you're going for a few years, the cost of sustaining you there might rival the cost of getting you there.

For example, the price might be exactly zero if you only get a one way trip and only get room and board on Mars.  Who knows what kind of structure will grow around such an endeavor.

If we're speaking of cost of transport only, then 500,000 for the ~500 kg that represent you and your immediate "luggage"  is indeed extremely cheap, and not in any way related to the current generation of hardware.
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Online Robotbeat

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Re: $500,000 Pricetag for Mars Trip
« Reply #17 on: 11/26/2012 08:49 PM »
...

If we're speaking of cost of transport only, then 500,000 for the ~500 kg that represent you and your immediate "luggage"  is indeed extremely cheap, and not in any way related to the current generation of hardware.
No luggage. I'm sure all your consumables would be taken care of by whoever is bringing you. Luggage would be really, really expensive... expect it to be made on site or shipped at great cost.
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Online GalacticIntruder

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Re: $500,000 Pricetag for Mars Trip
« Reply #18 on: 11/26/2012 09:58 PM »
Elon loves 747 comparisons.

If a 2013 Boeing 787-8 is 360 million USD for 300mT capacity, then a 2060 SpaceX MCT is, say 5 billion USDe, for 300mT capacity. If the demand to move large numbers of humans and things is there, then services will be there. The key question is what is the demand for high volume, traffic and goods?

It is an aspiration. It will not happen on the first mission around 2030, but maybe 2060. So whatever 500k USD is in the equivalent buying power of a 2060 future currency is, might work. It has to be reusable. Still, that won't cut it in my opinion for large numbers of settlers. It has to be much cheaper for Mars to become more than just some equivalent of a new Antarctic Research Base.

I do have an a philosophical problem with Elon's rationale. Musk wants people, middle aged, near retirement, to liquidate their Earth stuff and move to Mars, to do what? Just hang out and die, assuming current lifespan is 80. Does Musk think Mars will be an Arizona like golf course retirement community anytime this century?

Humans with money, travel, and tour, and many move to nicer places to retire, the easy living. Mars will not be a cake walk.  Easy living is a long, long, long term Mars goal. Blood, sweat, tears, misery, sacrifice, and death is more likely the first five decades.

Assuming the stereotypical future Earth Apocalypses will not happen, then the only people going to Mars in this century, are explorers, daredevils, scientists, entrepreneurs, ideological Libertarians; and mainly the economically desperate humans, mostly under age 35, whom are  looking for a better life, a new beginning, or the hopes of riches. Casual Mars tourism or Mars retirement will not be possible this century.
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Offline go4mars

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Re: $500,000 Pricetag for Mars Trip
« Reply #19 on: 11/26/2012 10:51 PM »
Casual Mars tourism or Mars retirement will not be possible this century.
88 years is a long time.  The first trans-Atlantic flight was less than 88 years ago.  I suspect some people in the 1920's held similar opinions for the chances of commonplace intercontinental aircraft tourism. 
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