SpaceX Wants More Government Funding for Renamed BFR

BFR servicing the International Space Station. (Credit: SpaceX)

Some news out of the NewSpace Europe conference:

The president of SpaceX said she expects the company would receive additional funding from the U.S. government to support the development of its large reusable launch system.

Speaking at the NewSpace Europe conference here Nov. 16, Gwynne Shotwell noted that SpaceX is already receiving funding from the U.S. Air Force supporting the development of Raptor, the engine that will power the vehicle known as BFR, or Big Falcon Rocket, and the reusable spacecraft known as BFS or Big Falcon Spaceship.

“I do anticipate that there is residual capability of that system that the government will be interested in,” she said. “I do see that we would likely get some funding from the government for BFR and BFS.” She added, though, that work on the vehicles was not contingent on receiving government funding.

The U.S. Air Force recently issued a request for proposals that will fund the development of new launch systems to replace ULA’s Delta IV and Atlas V boosters.

  • windbourne

    First off, the pix says BFR at ISS. Is that not BFS at ISS?

    Secondly, SX is not saying that they want more funding.
    They are saying that it is likely they will get more funding.

    “I do see that we would likely get some funding from the government for BFR and BFS.” She added, though, that work on the vehicles was not contingent on receiving government funding.

  • Aerospike


    And: where did anything get renamed?

  • Douglas Messier

    Big FUCKING Rocket is now Big FALCON Rocket.

    But, I digress.

  • Douglas Messier

    They’re going to have to ask for more funding which implies they want more funding. They clearly expect the request will be granted.

    Without more government funding, Elon’s aspirational goals for this whole thing become much more aspy….or something.

    This seems to be an old caption. This is the first time I recall seeing the term Big Falcon Spaceship, but perhaps I missed it.

  • Aerospike

    IIRC Elon has referred to BFR/BFS as “Big Falcon Rocket/(Space)Ship at least since the updated presentation at this years IAC.

  • JamesFranks

    I don’t read it that way at all; the way I read it is that SpaceX assumes that there will be unique government requirements. They are saying that they expect to get development funds if they address those specific needs.

  • Jan Bach Andersen

    Lets hope they gets some funding to speed things up so we have chance to se a reel spaceship fly ..what hope are there else out there orgin is building at great rocket but what about the the spaceship.. SLS and Orion can only do what the Apollo did..

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Replacement for a Delta II? Its here, a Falcon 9 in RTLS mode is the logical Delta II replacement, and if the $40 million dollar figure I’ve read on the internets is correct, that means a full up Falcon 9 with a used booster comes in at the same price as a Delta II with no strap on boosters as charged to NASA back in the 1990’s.

  • Kenneth_Brown

    I’m hoping that they don’t get funding from the government for this project. If it were a NASA project, there would be an emphasis on science but with SpaceX driving the design, it will be paying for Elon’s dreams which isn’t a proper use of taxpayer money. There are plenty of development projects I’d like to do, but I don’t expect that the government (taxpayer) should pay for them. I’d be developing them as a commercial venture. There hasn’t been put forward a commercial reason to have a human visit Mars. There are plenty of reasons not to send people at this time.

    The US already has the Senate Launch System project sucking the life out of NASA. Adding another fantasy rocket is a waste of resources. If Elon can manage it on his own, more power to him.

  • duheagle

    What Shotwell’s statement says is that SpaceX can take or leave additional government money and do BFR in either case – underlining what Elon said in Adelaide. Unstated, but implied, is that SpaceX doesn’t have to take government money that comes with too many strings attached. Given that said money would come from USAF, not NASA, I think that will be the case and SpaceX will take the money. I suspect the main “string” USAF would like to see is just SpaceX sticking to its “aspirational” BFR schedule as closely as possible. That should suit SpaceX just fine.

  • John Halpenny

    It is stuck in my head as Big Fantasy Rocket. I’m sticking with that.

  • Not Invented Here

    First of all, BFR is not another fantasy rocket, it’s a fully reusable launch vehicle + spaceship that can launch 150t to LEO at a cost lower than Falcon 1, if you think this capability is a waste of resources you don’t understand space at all.

    Secondly, the government is not funding BFR to fulfill Elon’s dreams, each government contract has a clear goal which BFR will need to meet in order to get funding. In case of USAF this goal would be sending EELV class payloads to intended orbits, in case of NASA this goal may be landing large payloads on the Moon. None of these has anything to do with Elon’s Mars dream but everything to do with the fact that BFR is designed to be a general purpose vehicle with Mars as just one of its many uses.

    Finally BFR will need to complete with other participants for the government contract, and SpaceX is expected to put in 1/3 to 2/3 of the total funding alone with the government, this is quite different from the sole sourced cost plus contract for SLS.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    The only capabilities I can think of that the USAF might be remotely interested in for something like the BFR would be something like high tonnage prompt global strike. For instance overwhelming Russian style divisional air defences like the S-400 system where by you attack the integrated SAM batteries over an area 100’s of km in radius with cheap munitions that either cause the batteries to fire and expend themselves while trying to defend themselves, or overwhelming the defence by sheer numbers and taking out the batteries with a N+1 mass strike. If the USAF has officers in their space cadre thinking along these lines then I can see why the air force might be interested in a orbital “B-52”, which is what a weaponized ITS would be. That said, prompt global strike can also be done with the existing Falcon 9. Perhaps there are non combat reasons the USAF might be interested in such large up masses.

  • duheagle

    I agree that there are many potential USAF missions for which BFR would be very useful.

  • duheagle

    NASA isn’t going to be providing any money for BFR. Any government funds would be forthcoming from USAF, which already has some skin in the BFR game via its two previous contracts anent Raptor. So science is largely irrelevant. USAF can find a lot of work for something with the capabilities of BFR. The taxpayers are in no danger of being shortchanged.

    And BFR is far from a “fantasy rocket.” Prototype engines and tankage have already been built and extensively tested. Overall, that puts BFR nearly on a par with SLS in terms of its actual progress to-date. Given that SpaceX moves at roughly five times MSFC speed, though, BFR is likely to fly sooner, even with SLS’s multi-year headstart.

  • Aerospike

    Even though I really don’t like SLS at all, I disagree with your projections of the future. The only way that BFR could fly before SLS (Block 1) would require a cancellation of SLS before the first flight.

    Imho there is no way that BFR starts flying in 2020.

    Maybe the unmanned cargo version of BFS alone, at least on suborbital flights, but for sure not the full stack.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “…for which BFR would be very useful.”
    And CHEAPER!.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Why can we not simply imagine that USAF are attracted by costs savings. Less budget spent on launch costs, could mean more budget spent on hardware and therefore more potential capability. And/or, that cheap reliable launch offers a route to much cheaper smaller satellites in constellations and so save budget whilst increasing capability. Today usaf is putting hundreds of millions or even billion dollar payloads on one hyper-expensive launch. Spending less overall on satellites, whilst spreading risk and increasing redundancy could be quite attractive to a budget restrained and capability limited usaf. In their $11 billion (plus another billion each year) contract with ULA the average price of a launch works out at $373 Million (and D-IV-H is somewhere between $600-1200 million), whereas BFR might be closer to $10million. The savings on asset acquisition and on a dozen or more launches a year are substantial, and easily enough to justify funding such a project on potential cost savings alone. Utilising F9, FH will help a lot, but the extra cost improvement (and potential of vastly reduced launch pucker factor) of BFR is surely very much worth having.
    So there’s no need to start imagining about giant-sized payloads or moustache twirling motivations.
    BFR might be big and able to deliver big payloads, but reduced cost and increased reliability are the fundamental points.

  • Aerospike

    Found this:
    Dated: April 12, 2017

    Wikipedia cites this link as a source for the “Big Falcon Rocket” interpretation of BFR with a retrieval date of March 10, 2017. So it has been around for longer.

    Of course unofficially it will always be the Big FUCKING Rocket, but the Big Falcon Rocket variant as the “official”, “clean” version has been around for a long time.

  • Steve Ksiazek

    Just looking at that picture tells me that BFR will never go to the ISS. Doesn’t it looks like there are all sorts of clearance issues ? And there is some sort of docking port on the underside of the BFR ? I don’t think so. That’s just a bad artist’s rendering.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Its a fantasy rocket…

  • Robert G. Oler

    When the dust settles…where SpaceX will be in the next 5 years…is well the Big Falcon rocket…not a mars rocket…but an upgraded falconH…a methane burner first and second stage with “cores” that are Kerosene…

  • Michael Halpern

    Or cheaply getting 2/3 (or 5) large satellites into orbit along with a collosal swarm of cubesats that preform a vast array of tasks ranging from communication, GPS, missile warning and reconnaissance, as well as some research payloads. All for the price of a dedicated nanosatalite launcher. To national security space BFR/BFS is like an aircraft carrier or possibly super carrier that will cost per launch comparatively the amount of a small boat, of course they will want it.

  • Michael Halpern

    Another use is they can utilize the BFS’s intact recovery capability to preform OTV type missions without the need for wings and a heat shield, leaving more room for experimental payloads. Very little of defense and military space interest is directly combative at least for the US, having such a vehicle available for NatSec use is also a deterrent in its own right, what’s the point of destroying the satellites if they can quickly be replaced with loads more cheaply, the BFR’s capability also will drive satellites of all sizes to be produced in greater scale and for less by economies of scale, also something that interests USAF, DoD, DARPA, and NRO, as well as Congress as it means American job and market opportunities.

  • Michael Halpern

    Another factor is BFR cost/mass is potentially low enough that making cubesats and sending them into orbit can be a middle class HOBBY. Obviously communication will probably have to be done primarily through laser to avoid rf conflicts, possibly laser to another satellite that communicates with the ground, but the implication for how that benefits USAF is that same mass produced hobbyist hardware is valid for their own interests, making the entire cost of their space interests nearly inconsequential.

  • Aerospike

    No, that is all correct. Look at the “see through” renderings in Elon Musk’s IAC 2017 presentation, the docking port is exactly where it is docked to the ISS in this artist’s rendering.

    The space shuttle also fit nicely to the same docking port.

  • Aerospike

    Says your crystal ball?
    any rationale why that would be a better architecture?

  • Robert G. Oler

    because what I suspect is that SpaceX is going to have a harder time then they think recovering from orbital velocity…and they have come close to mastering recovering from non orbital velocity…

  • Robert G. Oler

    you have no idea what the cost of a launch of this rocket will be…none

  • Paul451

    He also said it in interviews going back to his first comments about “MCT”, going back to 2013/14, describing that it consisted of two parts, BFR and BFS, which he gave as the “Falcon” gag, to the audiences amusement.

  • Paul451

    Plus NASA has shown a willingness to shuffle around CBM-attached parts to clear space for a docking port suitable for a given vehicle. They are doing it for the Commercial Crew vehicles, I’m sure they’d do it for BFS.

    The biggest issue with BFS is the arm of momentum will make the whole ISS flex and wobble. Apparently the Shuttle orbiter played havoc with the station for that reason.

  • Michael Halpern

    Less then the cost of Falcon 1 is what they are going for, which makes sense as its only the cost of fuel, and occasional maintenance

  • windbourne

    in what way?
    While it is not fully developed, the engines and tanks are now undergoing testing.
    To say that it is a fantasy is false.

  • windbourne

    Actually, I suspect that a 1 engine version will be developed and fully tested first.
    Or perhaps that is the idea of building a new F9/H stage 2.

  • James

    I heard that a lot after it came out when people were talking about it. I think people just went with it.

  • duheagle

    Perhaps any BFR flights in 2020 will be separate suborbital hops of the booster and upper stage. But to keep the projected two-freighters-to-Mars schedule in 2022, the whole stack is going to need to fly by sometime in 2021 at the latest. And I don’t see SLS – even the Block 1 EM-1 unmanned test of Orion – taking place before 2021. The “official” target date is now 12-2019, but the actual date is really mid-2020. Given that as little as a year ago NASA was still trying to pretend EM-1 would launch next year and that the SLS schedule is now slipping rightward at nearly a year per year, I think I’m being fairly generous in assuming only another year’s schedule slippage over the next three years. It’s likely the actual story will turn out to be worse than that. It’s even possible SLS could be cancelled in the interim, though I rate that at only about a 25% probability.

  • Robert G. Oler

    thats the plan…and that is so far the fantasy of it 🙂

    you do not go from “throw away rockets” to 100 percent reuse over 100 missions in zero, one or two or three technological generations.

    at best Musk is now reusing a first stage …once.

    what he and you and others are talking about is 777 reusability when there has not even been a DC 3. when we get to a DC 3…we can talk

  • Michael Halpern

    Except it isn’t 1-3 technological generations from expendable, there is the F9 which will have gone through 5 generations there is all the data they gather from dragon,and so forth. Besides what does SpaceX have to do with Dream Chaser?

  • Robert G. Oler

    none of those are even close to generations…Musk and his engineering staff have no idea what it takes to build something that last 100 launches…they probably now just have the competence to build something that gets to three…and that will be impressive…

    I dont mention dream chaser

  • Michael Halpern

    They reasonably expect most f9 components to last 100 launches, it’s just the turbopump, the heat shield and the landing legs that have durability problems, block 4 addressed the grid fins block 5 address everything else, the other components they have lots of experimental and real world data to inform them of their durability. It isn’t a matter of adding one or two extra launches each generation, it’s each generation addressing at least one major obstacle to rapid reuse, block 3 addressed preformance and actually being able to land, v1.1 (block 2) streamlined a major part of manufacturing v1 got reasonably sized payloads to orbit cheaper than the competition. And Falcon 1 got to orbit in the first place. The chief advantage of landing them even when they don’t refly is information gathering that’s why even without a boat for the fearings to land on they are testing the process on nearly every launch, and why they did water landing tests before they had an ASDS. Heck they have their own test site in Texas for rigorous testing of every engine and every complete booster they put on the pad. They probably have nearly as much if not more reuse data than the shuttle program generated.

  • publiusr

    Musk needs to call it ROMBUS and push for a new ABMA.

    Project Medaris