The spaceship that SpaceX is building to colonize Mars could also take people out to Jupiter’s ocean-harboring moon Europa and beyond, company founder and CEO Elon Musk said.
With the aid of strategically placed refueling depots, “you could actually travel out to the Kuiper Belt [and] the Oort Cloud,” Musk added. The Kuiper Belt is Pluto’s neck of the woods, while the Oort Cloud, the realm of comets, is even more distant; it begins about 2,000 astronomical units (AU) from the sun. (One AU is the distance between Earth and the sun — about 93 million miles, or 150 million kilometers.)
The ITS booster will be the most powerful rocket ever built, capable of lofting 300 tons (270 metric tons) to low Earth orbit (LEO) in its reusable version and 550 tons (500 metric tons) in its expendable variant, Musk said. This rocket will blast the spaceship, which will carry at least 100 people, to LEO, where further launches will fuel the smaller vehicle.
When the time is right — Earth and Mars align favorably for interplanetary missions just once every 26 months — a fleet of these spaceships will depart from LEO, arriving at the Red Planet in as little as 80 days, Musk said.
The ITS — both the rocket and the spaceship — will be powered by SpaceX’s Raptor engines, which run on a combination of methane and oxygen. Both of these ingredients can be manufactured on Mars and other places in the solar system, Musk said, meaning that the spaceship can and will be refueled far from Earth.