Elon Musk conducted an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit on Saturday. Below are selected responses to questions. A full list of questions and answers is located here.
Will be starting with a full-scale Ship doing short hops of a few hundred kilometers altitude and lateral distance. Those are fairly easy on the vehicle, as no heat shield is needed, we can have a large amount of reserve propellant and don’t need the high area ratio, deep space Raptor engines.
Next step will be doing orbital velocity Ship flights, which will need all of the above. Worth noting that BFS is capable of reaching orbit by itself with low payload, but having the BF Booster increases payload by more than an order of magnitude. Earth is the wrong planet for single stage to orbit. No problemo on Mars.
Raptor Thrust Reduction From ~300 Tons-force to ~170 Tons-force
We chickened out
The engine thrust dropped roughly in proportion to the vehicle mass reduction from the first IAC talk. In order to be able to land the BF Ship with an engine failure at the worst possible moment, you have to have multiple engines. The difficulty of deep throttling an engine increases in a non-linear way, so 2:1 is fairly easy, but a deep 5:1 is very hard. Granularity is also a big factor.
If you just have two engines that do everything, the engine complexity is much higher and, if one fails, you’ve lost half your power. Btw, we modified the BFS design since IAC to add a third medium area ratio Raptor engine partly for that reason (lose only 1/3 thrust in engine out) and allow landings with higher payload mass for the Earth to Earth transport function.
Scaling Up Sub-scale Raptor Engine
Thrust scaling is the easy part. Very simple to scale the dev Raptor to 170 tons.
The flight engine design is much lighter and tighter, and is extremely focused on reliability. The objective is to meet or exceed passenger airline levels of safety. If our engine is even close to a jet engine in reliability, has a flak shield to protect against a rapid unscheduled disassembly and we have more engines than the typical two of most airliners, then exceeding airline safety should be possible.
That will be especially important for point to point journeys on Earth. The advantage of getting somewhere in 30 mins by rocket instead of 15 hours by plane will be negatively affected if “but also, you might die” is on the ticket.
Production of the Raptor Engines
Some parts of Raptor will be printed, but most of it will be machined forgings. We developed a new metal alloy for the oxygen pump that has both high strength at temperature and won’t burn. Pretty much anything will burn in high pressure, hot, almost pure oxygen.
Details on Fuel Tanker
At first, the tanker will just be a ship with no payload. Down the road, we will build a dedicated tanker that will have an extremely high full to empty mass ratio (warning: it will look kinda weird).
Landing Sites on Mars
Landing site needs to be low altitude to maximize aero braking, be close to ice for propellant production and not have giant boulders. Closer to the equator is better too for solar power production and not freezing your ass off.
In-situ Resource Utilization System Development
Design is pretty far along. It’s a key part of the whole system.
Plans for Developing Colony on Mars
Our goal is get you there and ensure the basic infrastructure for propellant production and survival is in place. A rough analogy is that we are trying to build the equivalent of the transcontinental railway. A vast amount of industry will need to be built on Mars by many other companies and millions of people