(Adds rocket development cost estimate)
By Irene Klotz
GUADALAJARA, Mexico, Sept 27 (Reuters) - SpaceX is developing a massive rocket and capsule to transport large numbers of people and cargo to Mars with the ultimate goal of colonizing the planet, company chief and tech billionaire Elon Musk said on Tuesday.
Musk outlined his plans for the Mars rocket, capable of carrying 100 passengers plus cargo per voyage, even as SpaceX is still investigating why a different rocket carrying a $200 million Israeli satellite blew up on a launch pad in Florida earlier this month.
Though Musk said he envisions humans living in a large colony on Mars, he added that one key issue will be getting the cost down low enough to attract willing volunteers.
“You can’t create a self sustaining civilization if the ticket price is $10 billion per person,” he said during a presentation at the International Astronautical Congress meeting in Guadalajara.
“Our goal is to get it roughly equivalent to (the) cost of a medium house in the United States, about $200,000.”
Musk said it would be a challenge to fund the Mars effort, with rocket development costs alone estimated at $10 billion over the next few years.
“I’m personally accumulating assets in order to fund this,” he said, adding that “ultimately this is going to be a huge public-private partnership.”
SpaceX, which Musk founded specifically with the purpose of colonizing Mars, is one of several private and government funded ventures vying to put people and cargo on the red planet and other destinations beyond Earth’s orbit.
The nearly airless planet is typically around 140 million miles from Earth and landing the first humans there, after a six to nine month journey, is an extremely ambitious goal for anyone.
Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin space venture is also designing a heavy-lift vehicle and capsule called New Armstrong, that will be capable of Mars transport, company President Rob Meyerson said.
The U.S. government is also stepping up efforts to venture beyond the moon.
In his remarks, Musk said there would be no guarantee of survival for anyone signing up with SpaceX for the “incredible adventure” of a trip to Mars.
“The risk of fatality will be high, there’s no way around it. Basically, are you prepared to die, and if that’s OK then you’re a candidate for going,” he said.
SpaceX intends to fly to Mars about every 26 months when Earth and Mars are favorably aligned for flight. Musk said he would like to land people on Mars as early as 2024. NASA’s first human mission to Mars is expected about a decade later.
NASA is supporting SpaceX’s first mission to Mars, which is targeted for launch in 2018. SpaceX wants to send an unmanned capsule, called Red Dragon, to the surface of Mars to test descent, entry and landing systems.
NASA will be providing deep-space and Mars communications relays for SpaceX and consulting services in exchange for flight data. NASA wants to be able to land payloads weighing up to about 30 tons on Mars. So far, the heaviest vehicle to land on Mars was the one-ton Curiosity Rover.
Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Joe White and Tom Brown