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An artist’s conception shows a Falcon Heavy rocket lifting off for Mars. (Credit: SpaceX)

Is SpaceX planning to buy billions of dollars’ worth of carbon fiber for future Mars-bound spaceships? The answer’s up in the air, but a report to that effect from Japan’s Nikkei Asian Review has set SpaceX’s fans abuzz.

The report claims that SpaceX and Toray Industries, a Japan-based fiber manufacturer, are working on a multiyear deal that could eventually be worth $2 billion to $3 billion (200 billion to 300 billion yen). “The two sides are aiming to finalize the agreement this fall after hammering out prices, time frames and other terms,” Nikkei Asian Review’s Yuichiro Kanematsu reported.

No sources were cited in the report, and SpaceX downplayed any suggestion that a deal had been reached.

“Toray is one of a number of suppliers we work with to meet our carbon fiber needs for Falcon rocket and Dragon spacecraft production, and we haven’t announced any new agreements at this time,” SpaceX spokesman Phil Larson told GeekWire in a text. “As our business continues to grow, the amount of carbon fiber we use may continue to grow.”

Carbon fiber is used in components such as the interstage and the landing legs for the Falcon 9 rocket. Aluminum alloys are used much more widely, but carbon composites are on the rise when it comes to fabricating space hardware. For instance, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane is predominantly made of carbon composites, as is Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle.

The main advantage of carbon fiber is its strength-to-weight ratio, which is why Boeing and Airbus have increased its use in aerospace applications. Last year, Toray reached a long-term agreement with Boeing to supply fiber for the 787 Dreamliner as well as the 777X from its South Carolina plant.

Today’s Nikkei report said SpaceX was planning to shift from aluminum to carbon fiber to cut down on the weight of its heavy-lift rockets, thus allowing them to carry more payload. Nikkei said sheets of carbon fiber would probably be supplied from Toray’s production center in Alabama, with additional supplies coming from South Carolina if necessary.

The report touched off speculation that billions of dollars’ worth of carbon fiber might be used to fabricate spacecraft such as the Mars Colonial Transporter. SpaceX’s billionaire founder, Elon Musk, says he wants to use the MCT to send thousands of colonists to Mars – beginning in the mid-2020s.

Musk is due to lay out the details of the colonization plan next month in Mexico at the International Astronautical Congress. Until then, Musk and SpaceX are being careful not to tip their hand too much. Are the rumblings about carbon fiber part of the buildup to the big reveal? Stay tuned.

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