Great Overview of the Technical Aspects of Elon Musk’s BFR

Video Caption: Elon Musk presented the latest updates on SpaceX’s long term plans for their ‘BFR’ at the IAC in Adelaide. I now have an inbox of messages asking for my take on it all so – let’s talk about the plans that he presented.

The main points are the BFR (Big Rocket) is now a lot smaller than the original design, it still uses 2 stages and refuels in orbit enabling it to go to Mars, but now it’ll also be setup as a satellite launch vehicle, cargo ship able to visit ISS and the surface of the moon. But most surprisingly, and perhaps least realistically, he pitched a new passenger design intended to carry people halfway around the Earth at hypersonic speeds.

  • DJN

    If you heard the talk it self, this fellow adds nothing

  • Jacob Samorodin

    What kind of booster is he considering for such a proposal? What empty/full mass loads is he hinting at? Finally, if you could send say, eight passengers, on his reusable shuttle anywhere in less than an hour, and experience more than 5 minutes of zero-g, you either have eight “space-tourists” who may ultimately pay a fraction of what Sir Richard Branson is asking for in his project, or you have eight business employees who just happen to experience spaceflight between business destinations, or eight space special-forces personnel from the SEALS or Marines, etc on a quick trip to a combat zone..

  • Lee

    Watch the talk. He’s thinking more like 50-100 ppl per flight point-to-point on Earth.

  • therealdmt

    As Lee said, he’s thinking like 8 dozen than 8, but yeah, there could be military applications such as you’ve laid out. A global quick reaction team…

  • therealdmt

    While not envisioned as space tourism, if put into service, it would pretty much kill the nascent suborbital space tourism business (at least as currently envisioned)

  • therealdmt

    Good summary, though…

  • Barmaglot

    Yeah, well, if the cost of getting a warm body into low Earth orbit is equivalent to a first-class airplane ticket, space tourism would involve orbital hotels, Lunar excursions, etc.

  • Barmaglot

    If BFR is sized to carry 50-100 people to Mars, it would be able to lift a lot more in a short-haul cattle-class configuration.

  • therealdmt

    Definitely, though suborbital (point to point) takes a lot less energy than orbital. They may be able to do it with only the upper stage. I think even if things work out how Musk is laying out, orbital tourists flights will still cost a heck of a lot more than an airline ticket (though an order [orders?] of magnitude less than today).

    Anyway, I guess my thoughts above were directed towards Virgin Galactic and the people with $150,000 or whatever on deposit for an 8 minute flight to up and then back (at some indeterminate point in the future). Bezo’s New Shepard venture, too. I could however see the balloon ride-at-the-edge-of-space thing, drifting along for hours above the visible atmosphere with wine ‘n cheese and gravity and such for not all that much money, surviving if it ever comes to fruition though

  • Barmaglot

    A low energy suborbital ballistic path only gets you a few hundred kilometers of range. To go halfway around the world on a purely ballistic path, you’ll have to go several thousand kilometers above the surface, which will take you well into Van Allen radiation belt territory. Musk’s concept, as shown, is best described as ‘fractional orbit’ rather than suborbital – launch with a very low apogee (probably under 200km, which has the advantage of being clean from space debris), circularize the orbit, then, as you approach your destination, brake and re-enter. An alternative, as Scott points out, is a Silbervogel-like path where, instead of flying purely ballistic, you skip off the upper atmosphere to extend your aerodynamic glide range, but I suspect this will be more costly in terms of heat shield deterioration than burning a few hundred extra tons of fuel.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Fuel cheap, patching up spacecraft, not so much.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Think more like 800-1000 per flight. BFR has more internal volume than an A380 (or so Elon said), which can fit 853 in single class mode – and there will be no snacks, beverages or movies, or even taking seat belts off, when travelling on BFR Airlines.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    These types of vehicle make absolutely no sense going into defended airspace. And when I say defended airspace, I’m talking anything covered by systems as old as the SA-2 and Nike or F4 Phantoms or MiG-21s. As they re-enter they’re sitting ducks and huge radar and IR beacons for surface to air missiles as well as air to air missiles. What you really need to penetrate enemy airspace from space is a velocity above 2km/sec or more all the way down.

  • publiusr

    Phil Bono style.