Another step: Two companies want to overtake SpaceX on Mars with a daring landing

21/07/2022
Credit image: NASA
Credit image: NASA

Article by: Andacs Robert Eugen, on 21 July 2022, at 10:30 am Los Angeles time

For years, Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, has been speaking about turning humanity into an interplanetary species by sending some colonists to Mars one day. The company builds a giant spaceship, Starship, with this object in mind.

But a newer rocket company, Relativity Space, and a small start-up founded by an engineer who led the development of rocket engines at SpaceX announced on Tuesday plans to send a robotic lander developed in private mode.

Optimistically, the two companies say they could even do so in two years and a half when the positions of Earth and Mars will align again.

Timothy Ellis, the executive director and one of the founders of Relativity Space, stated that how SpaceX aspires to do things "on the edge of madness, ambitious and dares" was a source of inspiration.

"These goals attract the best people to work on them," he said. Mr. Ellis. "We're bolder than some of the other companies."

If a commercial mission to Mars succeeds, it could open a new market where national space institutions, companies, and agencies could send useful cargo to the red planet at an economical cost.

This would be similar to how many companies hope to make money sending payloads to the Moon for paying customers, including NASA, starting right from the end of this year. But it would be on a more difficult and distant scale.

A NASA mission to Mars costs at least half a billion dollars, although this includes sophisticated tools.

Relativity has not launched any rockets yet. The first flight of its Terran 1 rocket could be taking place in a few weeks from Cape Canaveral, Florida. But the mission on Mars is based on a much larger rocket, the Terran R, which is comparable to the size and lift capacity of a Falcon 9 rocket, SpaceX's main rocket which has flown 31 times so far this year. This project is not scheduled to take off by late 2024 or early 2025, Mr. Ellis said.

Relativity's collaborator, Impulse Space, is an even younger company, with a track record and less known. But its founder, Thomas Mueller, is a veteran of space affairs and was employee no. 1 when Musk founded SpaceX in 2002. Mr. Mueller led the development of the Merlin rocket engines which power the Falcon 9 rockets.

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