Video of Gwynne Shotwell’s TED Talk

Video Caption: What’s up at SpaceX? Engineer Gwynne Shotwell was employee number seven at Elon Musk’s pioneering aerospace company and is now its president. In conversation with TED curator Chris Anderson, she discusses SpaceX’s race to put people into orbit and the organization’s next big project, the BFR (ask her what it stands for). The new giant rocket is designed to take humanity to Mars — but it has another potential use: space travel for earthlings.

  • Smokey_the_Bear

    At 13:15 she says the BFR fairing in 8 meters…I thought it was 9.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    External diameter 9 metres, internal 8ish metres ???

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Regarding BFR airlines:
    Host: “This is crazy, right?. This is never going to actually happen”
    Shotwell (said with conviction): “Oh no, it’s definitely going to happen. This is definitely going to happen.”

  • nathankoren

    Shotwell: “Big. FALCON. Rocket.”

    Perfect delivery. Just about died laughing.

  • Michael Halpern

    You have a ship with the internal pressurized volume of an A380, a ship that is fully reusable and can land anywhere with the ground support equipment including reusable booster, it is a pretty logical extension of what it would do

  • Michael Halpern

    Base diameter is 9m, however the fairing tapers a bit, 8m probably offers the largest volume, of course between TPS, hydrolics, integration and deployment aids, it can easily become 8m, with BFS chomper for instance it makes sense to incorporate a robotic arm for more dense integration options among other things.

  • Jeff2Space

    I respect Shotwell, but I still call b.s. on this use for BFR. Five copies of the A380 were flight tested for over 2,000 hours. Unless SpaceX can fly BFR 1000+ times without incident, I just don’t see the FAA granting a type certificate for BFR to fly passengers point to point. I just don’t see BFR flying enough times to gain certification for this purpose. I could be wrong, but I’m skeptical that the FAA would want to deal with a point to point BFR crash that kills all aboard. There is little margin for error when performing vertical landings.

  • Michael Halpern

    It will take a while but it will happen, eventually

  • mattmcc80

    Same. And then the eyebrow waggle to the crowd, just in case anybody missed the joke.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    That is comparing apples to oranges. It should be comparing the number of flight cycles not flight hours.

    Have you look at stats for inflight helicopter incidents with fatalities. The FAA still licenses helicopters even with that stats not much differently than rural short haul feederliners AFAIK.

  • Terry Stetler

    8 meters internal, 9 meters external makes sense for BFR/S 1.0, but odds are StarLink money rolling in would result in a 12-15 meter BFR/S 2.0 as originally planned.

  • Enrique Moreno

    Taking into account that a A380 fly duration is 20 times longer (more or less as average), this equals to 100 hour of BFR…

  • Michael Halpern

    That will take a while

  • Michael Halpern

    My guess is that initially that money will go to integration and deployment improvements to BFS, P2P, and Mars/Moon possibly even active orbital remediation, to protect all their investments. BFR will get bigger as need for greater bulk lift emerges,

  • Jeff2Space

    20x is too high. In one of their videos it said BFR/BFS could fly from New York to Shanghai in 39 minutes. On a subsonic commercial airline that same flight is about 15 hours. That’s 10x, which gives 200 hours of flight time which is still 134 flights. That’s still a hell of a test program to pay for, even if FAA buys the logic that since BFR/BFS flies faster, it needs far fewer flight hours for certification.

  • Jeff2Space

    If most places really are 30 minutes away with BFR/BFS, that 100 hours is still 200 flights. To do that in a year, you’d have to fly an average of four times a week. Considering you’d want to do inspections on these things during the test program, I’m guessing you’d need about five copies of BFR/BFS, which is how many A380s were built for their test program.

    That’s still a hell of a test program in order to gain FAA certification to fly passengers point to point. No one has ever certified a spacecraft to the same rigorous standards of a passenger aircraft. It will be a daunting task no matter how you approach the problem.

  • Jeff2Space

    See my math above if we accept that BFR/BFS flights are 1/20th the duration of an A380. That’s still 200 flights. Few launch vehicles have flown 200+ flights as orbital launch vehicles. Certifying a liquid fueled rocket powered vehicle like BFR/BFS for point to point passenger transportation is unprecedented.

  • Jeff2Space

    IMHO “eventually” could be five years after BFR/BFS starts flying if everything goes smoothly with development and test flights . There will need to be about 200 test flights to prove its safe for point to point passenger certification, IMHO.

    Or it could be never if BFS experiences total loss of vehicle and crew a couple of times during its test program. BFR/BFS for point to point passenger transport needs to be very nearly as safe as a contemporary passenger carrying subsonic jet aircraft, and those are extremely safe these days.

  • Obediah Headstrong

    Every spacecraft used to transport humans from one point to another on this globe should act like a plane during take-off and landing. Much safer.

  • duheagle

    Given that BFR-BFS should enter service well within five years, adding another five years to the point-to-point debut is not unreasonable and is, in fact, the schedule Shotwell adduced in her interview – “within the next decade.”

    I am mystified by your notion that BFS has a significant probability of suffering crew losses during testing. SpaceX isn’t going to put people on it until it’s very well tested.

  • duheagle

    It is now. In times past, not so much. Reusable rocketry is a rapidly advancing technology. By the time BFS carries people, SpaceX will have had over a decade of experience and continuous refinement under its belt with unmanned missions.

    Even apart from that, it’s hardly obvious that exposing a vehicle to the vagaries of Earh’s atmosphere for hours on end and relying on a tired crew to land at the far end of the run is necessarily safer than a quick punch through the atmosphere at each end of the trip with untiring and unemotional silicon responsible for sticking the landings.

  • duheagle

    It will certainly be a non-trivial problem, but BFR-BFS will also lack a lot of the problematical systems that sometimes contribute to aircraft accidents and which take up so much of the certification process for aircraft – wings, elaborate systems of aerodynamic control surfaces, twisting/rotating/folding landing gear and their doors, plus the hydraulic systems to operate all of these come to mind.

  • duheagle

    “Unprecedented” is not, as you seem to think, a synonym for “impossible.”

    Don’t know ’bout you, tovarich, but most of us here seem to relish the unprecedented. We’re going to need to lay a whole lot of unprecedented things end-to-end before space travel becomes a mass-participation activity. If you’re not up for that, perhaps you should change your handle to something more appropriate – like, say “Jeff2StayOnTheGround” or maybe even “Jeff2CowerUnderTheBed.”

  • duheagle

    Maybe yes, maybe no.

  • Michael Halpern

    This is spacex we are talking about, they may be able to do that in 3 years depending on when they get crew certified

  • Zed_WEASEL

    P2P is not orbital. It is sub-orbital. Which put less stress on the BFS as there is no reentry.

    Yes about 200 test flights seems about right. From the video Shotwell said that the BFR could fly up to 6 times daily. In theory 2 BFS could test fly back and forth from offshore platforms between Oregon and California on 2 BFB 6 times daily each. So optimistically only about 17 days is needed to accumulated 200 flights, more realistically 80 days with gradual ramp up in daily flight rates.

    P2P if it works will disrupt if not destroy long haul air travel with large airliners along with high priority cargo delivery. There is a big between a P2P 30 to 40 minutes flight and an airliner flight of 8 to 16 hours.

    One have to wonder if there will be a SpaceX P2P flight service for passengers and cargo. Or will SpaceX let other entities operate leased P2P BFR services. IIRC the BFR system is classified by ITAR regulations as munitions, so must be operated by US entities from US jurisdictions (e.g. US flagged maritime platforms).

    Just for laughs P2P could operate under the banner of the “SubSpaceX” flight services.

  • redneck

    There is most definitely reentry from sub-orbital point to point. A range of roughly Mach 15 to Mach 24 per flight. Orbital is mach 25, so energy of reentry ranges from 35-90% of orbital. Less is not nothing.

  • Jeff2Space

    There is a reentry with P2P. Flying *above* the atmosphere is how you get half way around the world in a bit more than 1/2 an hour!

  • Jeff2Space

    They have yet to fly Block 5 once and still need NASA certification for Block 5 and Dragon 2 to do commercial crew. With NASA admitting the certification bottleneck is on their side (not enough knowledgeable people to do the reviews in a timely manner), SpaceX is already facing schedule delays that are out of their control.

    Until NASA signs off on these things, no doubt there are people at SpaceX
    who won’t be transitioning to BFR/BFS for some time.

  • Jeff2Space

    If you’d been paying attention, I’m one of the biggest SpaceX supporters on these forums. I think Falcon 9 Block 5 and Falcon Heavy are going to be wildly successful even though Block 5 hasn’t flown even once.

    That said, this whole P2P thing is going to cost a hell of a lot of money to certify due to the very high number of flights required. I’m not saying SpaceX can’t do it, I’m saying that due to US Government bureaucracy at the FAA, it’s going to take longer and be more expensive than they think.

    Certifying passenger transports for P2P is not the same as getting government approval to launch uncrewed Falcons and Dragons, which is what they’ve done to date. They’re about to enter a whole new level of bureaucracy that they’ve never encountered before.

  • Jeff2Space

    The history of crewed vertical take off and landing vehicles is filled with accidents, crashes, and fatalities. Vertically landing rocket powered vehicles are still in their infancy compared to helicopters and even V-22 types of designs. So, from an engineering point of view we don’t know what we don’t know!

    It’s going to be a long time before a BFR/BFS racks up as many take offs and landings as these other types. Until then, we simply DO NOT KNOW how reliable BFR/BFS will be. This is simple engineering statistics here, nothing more.

    I’m one of the biggest SpaceX supporters on these forums, but I also have a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from Purdue, so I have a tiny bit of domain knowledge here.

  • Kenneth_Brown

    This sort of rocket application has been proposed over and over and over. The constraints are less with the rocket and more with weather, noise and money. Aircraft can fly in weather that would cancel a rocket launch. As the BFR would be just as loud as a Saturn V or perhaps louder, takeoffs and landings would need to be from facilities far away from anything when done from land or from large sea based barges. Ocean waves would them become a limiting factor.

    If you are in a BFH (Big Falcon Hurry) to get somewhere, you may not like the strong possibility of a scrubbed flight due to weather on either end or technical issues. The travel time just to get to the rocket and from a landing site to civilization would also negate a lot of time savings from faster in-flight times.

    Concorde suffered from the many of the same issues that P2P rocket travel would. There were limited routes that were feasible and the number of people that could afford the airfare between those points wasn’t enough to balance operational costs and operations didn’t leave any money to design and build the next generation Concorde.

    It sounds fantastic to get from LA to Tokyo in less than an hour, but the big question is how many people would need to do that on a regular basis. The once in a lifetime trip customers for any mode of transportation aren’t a data point to consider when making up a business plan.

    The cost to operate a rocket transportation system will be tremendous. It will take a highly trained crew to launch, recover and inspect the rockets. Insurance will be very expensive. Passengers can be asked to sign anything SX wants and still a court might be likely to set aside those waivers as has happened in the past. The rockets have to make the trip whether there is a profitable number of passengers/freight on-board or not. The tricky part is that people in a big hurry are mostly those with last minute obligations so bookings could be down to the day of and not weeks in advance. If you have time to plan, you generally have time to travel.

    Having worked with rockets, I know that the operational costs are significantly more than flying an aircraft for a given payload. Will people be able to afford the ticket price? Will there be enough of those people to sustain a regular schedule? Without a regular and reliable schedule, the service won’t be attractive to anybody.