Enlarge / SpaceX may be dumping the outer ring of 21 engines for its new Mars vehicle. (credit: SpaceX)
Last year, SpaceX founder Elon Musk shared plans for his transportation system to send humans to Mars in the 2020s.

But the fantastically huge rocket, with 42 Raptor engines and enormous technical challenges, seemed more like science fiction than reality.

Then there was the small matter of who would pay the tens of billions of dollars to develop a rocket that had few—if any—commercial prospects beyond sending 100 people to Mars at a time.

Musk seems to have realized that his ambitions were a tad too ambitious in recent months, and has said he will release a “revised” plan for Mars colonization that addresses some of these technical and fiscal questions. Now, we know this discussion will come during the 2017 International Astronautical Conference in Adelaide, Australia, on September 29.

And this weekend, Musk dropped a big hint about the change.
In response to a question on Twitter, Musk wrote, “A 9m diameter vehicle fits in our existing factories …” And this is actually quite a substantial hint, because the original “Interplanetary Transport System” had a massive 12-meter diameter.

By scaling back to 9 meters, this suggests that Musk plans to remove the outer ring of 21 Raptor engines, leaving a vehicle with 21 engines instead of the original 42. While still complicated to manage during launch and flight, 21 engines seems more reasonable.
Such a vehicle would also have about 50 percent less mass.
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