SpaceX’s Elon Musk is waiting for a Space conference in Mexico in a few months before unburdening himself of his long-term plans for Mars. But, he gave out a few hints to the Washington Post.

As previously announced, Musk intends to send a Red Dragon, a landing vehicle version of his workhorse spacecraft, to Mars launched on a Falcon Heavy rocket in 2018. NASA has already expressed interest in participating in the mission by providing a payload, possibly in the form of a resource utilization experiment, as well as technical support.

The ambitious launch schedule may be too quick for the typically slow-moving space agency to take advantage of the mission, however.

In 2020 Musk would like to send two Red Dragons to Mars, loaded with payloads provided by customers interested in sending things to the Red Planet. SpaceX will thus have developed a new business, a regular interplanetary cargo service. Every 26 months, as regular as a train leaving the station, one or more Falcon Heavies would leave Earth with Red Dragons headed for Mars.

All of that is just the prelude to the fulfillment of Musk’s most grandiose plan, the building of a Mars settlement. SpaceX may be able to execute the first launch of a spacecraft known as the Mars Colonial Transport, the often mentioned and speculated on rocket that is supposed to take people to Mars to become the first settlers, by 2022. The first people to land on Mars could depart Earth by 2024.

Just in the way of analysis, the cargo service to Mars seems like a good business gambit. A number of national space agencies, which might have difficulty building landing vehicles in-house, might be willing to pay SpaceX to take their landers and rovers for a hefty fee. The plan is ambitious. The Red Dragon would be the heaviest object ever to land on Mars.

Starting a Mars settlement by 2024, lacking details, would seem to careen into the realm of fantasy.

Even with the nimble and frugal nature of a private business, the undertaking would be expensive beyond what any entity has ever undertaken. Can Musk create a Mars settlement enterprise as a profit making business? The world awaits the answers to this and many other questions.

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