One of the biggest criticisms of the Mars colony is that it won’t be financially feasible and that SpaceX will have to receive massive amounts of funding from NASA and other external organizations to achieve colonization.

I'm inclined to disagree. The way I've always thought of it (though I don't have the exact numbers) is like this:

  • SpaceX, the company, is primarily a business which makes tons of money by launching super-affordable rockets for its varied repertoire of clients.

  • It then allocates a portion of those profits to the various aspects of the Mars colonization plan, such as the building of the ITS, the new spacesuit, and ultimately the launch of the ITS to Mars and the establishment of the colony.

  • However, at present, SpaceX makes zero money on its Mars colonization efforts.

Am I correct in my assumptions? Can SpaceX truly accomplish these objectives exclusively using the money that it makes as a business, or will it need external funding?

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    $\begingroup$ No. But NASA will chip in in order to piggy ride on the back of SpaceX, so that they don't look all too silly and left behind. And on Blue origin for that part too. $\endgroup$
    – LocalFluff
    Oct 5, 2016 at 20:34

2 Answers 2


One thing people noted heavily that was missing in the IAC presentation by Elon Musk was any mention of what it looks like ON Mars, once people arrive.

I.e. He focused on getting there, admittedly the hard part right now. He sort of dodged on the radiation question (Sort of fairy since it is a very unclear issue) which is an In-Transit issue. But on the topic of living on Mars, he did not even mention it in passing.

So would NASA fund the missions there? Possibly they would buy passage from SpaceX since if a mission is going, is offering room/mass, of course they would take it. Especially since it seems likely it will be cheaper than any mission NASA has launched.

Would NASA fund a base? Unclear but if nothing else, they, and people like Zubrin's Mars Society have been working on issues a base would face for a long time.

SpaceX's approach was literally stated as being the "railroad" to Mars. What is built there, is left open to others. The railroad built stations at the end. Likely built some housing for the people building it at the end point. Likely built some housing for the staff manning the station, but they did not build the city at the end of it.

They may have built beautiful monstrous terminals at the end of the line (Union Stations in most US cities) which contribute to the city at the end.

But following that metaphor, the idea is once a railroad to Mars is available, large scale, with people going, and mass available, then companies and individuals will be interested in developing the endpoint.

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    $\begingroup$ I would vouch for that. At IAC he indirectly pointed at being concerned only with the transportation and that it was upto other innovators now to think about sustainability and how their habitats would be like and how they plan on doing there. $\endgroup$ Oct 6, 2016 at 20:49

The big question is, how much will it cost? The estimates that I've seen indicate it would cost about \$560 million per launch, assuming no re-usability. If that is all it takes to get to Mars, then Elon Musk can get the money fairly easily, from a number of sources. Prior to launching humans to Mars, they will have launched one cargo mission unmanned, several LEO ranged tests, done R&D, and at least 3, maybe more, Red Dragon Missions (Estimated around \$150 million, on the low side). Put all of that together, and there's easily a \$2 billion cost in non-R&D costs. R&D is likely on the order of \$3 billion, so that's around \$5 billion minimum.

Of some question is how much they can sell of the initial runs to space. I can imagine someone paying for cargo launched to Mars at very low cost, for instance. Get the price low enough, and many people would have payloads they are interested to sending to Mars on a Red Dragon. NASA might even pay for loads taken there, for instance, and they might even completely make up the cost of the mission for the subsequent missions.

Elon has stated that his potential funding sources include "Stealing underpants, Launch Satellites, Send Cargo to the ISS, Kickstarter, and Profit". More seriously, he committed to using his life's fortune to make this happen.

Will NASA fund it? Maybe. I can't imagine that NASA would turn down an opportunity to be on that first spacecraft to Mars that SpaceX has, and I can't imagine SpaceX refusing to give them that opportunity. The first missions will be far more than the \$200,000 end goal, but let's say that they assume no reusability for the first launches, and the \$560 million price tag holds. That would lead to a cost of only \$5.6 million! NASA is already going to pay SpaceX around \$25 million per seat to the ISS, possibly more. I can't imagine that if they meet the required safety margin, NASA wouldn't book seats on the first SpaceX manned mission to Mars. They might even pay a premium to be the first out of the hatch;-) But I don't think they will pay for SpaceX to do the R&D, at least, not directly.

  • $\begingroup$ Why would you want to send a payload to mars beyond (not profitable) research missions? $\endgroup$ Oct 23, 2016 at 10:22
  • $\begingroup$ See Elon Musk talk $\endgroup$
    – PearsonArtPhoto
    Oct 23, 2016 at 10:28

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