SpaceX CEO Elon Musk introduced a renamed version of his Martian colonial transport vehicle on Friday that was simultaneously shrunken somewhat in size but much larger in its ambition.
The big change in the newly renamed BFR — for big effing rocket — involved reducing the number of first stage engines from 42 to 31 engines. Despite the reduction, the second stage booster/spacecraft would still be capable of carrying up to 100 people to the Red Planet.
The biggest change involves BFR’s scope. Not only would it the basis for building a Mars colony and moon base, it would completely disrupt terrestrial transportation by taking passengers between any two spots on Earth in less than an hour.
The fully reusable BFR is designed not only to replace everything in SpaceX’s inventory — Dragon, Crew Dragon, Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy — but it would also render the world’s expendable boosters and many long-haul airplane routes obsolete.
More importantly, the giant rocket would be extremely inexpensive to operate while providing sufficient profits to fund Musk’s dream of establishing a colony on the Red Planet.
NASA had a similar goal in mind when it designed the space shuttle back in the early 1970’s. However, budget limitations forced a series of compromises that resulted in the transportation system being much more expensive to operate.
Musk is not under similar restrictions from a design standpoint. However, it’s not entirely clear how he would fully fund the development of the BFR. In a presentation in Mexico last year, Musk called for a public-private partnership to support the program. He made no mention of it on Friday, nor did he take any audience questions.
The SpaceX founder said the company would begin manufacturing the first of the giant boosters in 2018. The plan is to send two automated ships to Mars during the 2022 launch window to pave the way for human missions. In 2024, SpaceX would launch four BFRs — two crew, two cargo — to begin colonization of the Red Planet.