Elon’s Announcement

I didn’t see it, and I couldn’t view it on my notebook because Firefox can’t handle HTML5 (WTF?).

But from what I can glean from my Twitter feed, the plan to send a bunch of artists into space excited a lot of people on Twitter not normally excited about what SpaceX has been doing (we saw a similar effect with the FH launch of the Tesla and rocket man, though some who didn’t like that love this). Anyway, I’ve been saying all weekend, and told people at the conference today that I’d be very surprised if someone booked an entire BFR flight and didn’t take friends along. The other thing that seems clear is that the schedule is slipping (Commercial Crew has slipped from November to December for test flight, and from next April to “second quarter” for first crewed launch).

Only about 5% of SpaceX resources are going to BFR currently, but once development is done on Commercial Crew, that will increase dramatically, but a 2023 lunar mission means no Mars prior to that. His flight, given the amount of the down payment, will be the highest BFR priority. Here’s a link from Business Insider.

[Tuesday-morning update]

Here‘s Eric Berger’s take.

40 thoughts on “Elon’s Announcement”

  1. A skateboarder who started a fashion line, and is worth over a billion dollars? Man, am I ever in the wrong damned field!

  2. The economics of this are subtly shifting the focus of BFS onto the moon not Mars. A logical extension would be a 1 year voyage around Venus as well.

    Also the pressure to get paying customer’s aboard ASAP will likely skew initial BFS configurations to crewed over cargo. Orbital trips, lunar flyby’s and P2P 1 hr trips to Earth destinations. These would seem to be the paydirt for BFS, not cargo. Why this matters is that time pressure to achieve results and money-on-the-line will drive design considerations. For example it might be cheaper, quicker to go for a fully crew constrained cabin design, rather than perhaps a more general purpose design whereby the craft body serves the purposes of propulsion, flight and landing while a separately removable set of modules could provide crew or cargo support. This development will likely take a back seat to getting crews into space first but would be a very useful configuration for establishing bases or colonies. Just saying. SpaceX will provide a vision but money comes with strings attached.

      1. Absolutely. They have until the end of March 2024 (six years from their FCC approval) to put up half of their initial 4,425-satellite array, with the other half required to be in place three years after that. They’ll start with F9 and FH but they need BFR to do it economically. (The follow-on 7,518 satellite VLEO constellation is still awaiting approved, so its clock has yet to start ticking.)

        A substantiation advance payment to help develop BFR in return for fitting out a ship for passengers after the cargo design has been tested and proven in orbit seems a good deal to me. MZ might be their first paying passenger, but Starlink is already lined up as their first customer.

  3. Curiosity finally drove me to compare the second stage BFR to the 737 that most of us have flown in. That really put it in perspective for me, as second stage dwarfs the 737.

    Second stage length = 157 feet (per Wikipedia)
    Boeing 737-600 lenght = 117 feet
    BFR width = 30 feet
    737-600 fuselage = 12 feet 4 inches
    Second stage 35,000 cu ft of pressurized space
    737-700C (cargo version) total main and lower hold 3800 cu ft.

  4. Dismay is too strong a word, but I feel very worried about this. Why the rush to a super-HLV when funding is uncertain and FH is more than large enough, but still not fully reusable? I hope it is some sort of n-dimensional chess designed to outmaneuver SLS.

    – Why 9m before achieving full reusability of the second stage?
    – Why composites?
    – What’s the point of switching to methane if you don’t have vacuum-optimised engines on the upper stage?
    – Why cargo in such an unlikely location close to the engines?
    – Why densified propellants?

    1. All your questions have obvious answers given just a little bit of effort. But I will give you the benefit of doubt and give them.

      > Why 9m before achieving full reusability of the second stage?
      There is insufficient margin to do full reuse of the current F9/FH upper stage, for a variety of reasons.

      > Why composites?
      All other things being equal, lower mass.

      > What’s the point of switching to methane if you don’t have vacuum-optimised engines on the upper stage?
      All other things being equal, methane gives better efficiency than kerosene. The choice of propellant has nothing to do with the presence of vacuum optimized nozzles. But the increased efficiency of methane allows you to get away with one nozzle design for the first version.

      > Why cargo in such an unlikely location close to the engines?
      This thing is intended to land. So ease of access when landed. Duh.

      > Why densified propellants?
      Why not? All other things being equal, they allow you to put more propellant in the same size tank.

      1. Another reason to go with methane is that it’s cheaper than RP-1. The goal is to make launch so cheap that propellant costs become important.

        1. And yet another reason to go with methane is that it is cleaner than RP-1 (for which coking is an issue), improving engine reusability.

        2. Yeah, the benefits of all these things were clear to me, but they also involve development risk. I just don’t understand why they are now going for such radical changes in a short timeframe when until now they have followed the approach of frequent smaller changes.

          I would have expected a fully reusable (to LEO) wide-body Al-Li Falcon-like vehicle with Raptor engines first.

          It will be great if they succeed, I’m just worried about the risk and puzzled why Musk is doing this.

          1. I think you badly overestimate the risks remaining anent BFR.

            The Falcons have been flying with large composite pieces for a long time (payload fairing and interstage). SpaceX has been able to recover and examine many of both post-flight.

            The metal Falcons are moderately reusable. BFR-BFS will, by comparison, be epically reusable. A big reason is that composites are not subject to fatigue deterioration in the same way metal is.

            An ITS-scale composite LOX tank was fabricated and tested a couple years ago.

            The Raptor seems to be pretty much ready to go now or at least so far along in testing that it is no longer on the BFR’s critical path.

            The risks of super-chilled propellant turned out to be entirely resident in the Falcon’s helium-based ullage pressure system. BFR-BFS dispenses with helium entirely.

      2. Also, having multiple engines on the second stage makes landing much easier. The current F9 second stage has only one engine, which can only throttle down so far.

        That said, I’d like to see actual hardware before I get too excited about video presentations.

  5. Did he get his inspiration from the Hitchhiker’s Guide? Artists on a rocket to space. Trust me, it’s vital that you CRASH, no land.

  6. Artists are largely temperamental folks. Not level-headed. Often profoundly damaged. Not a crew I want to lock myself into a carbon fiber can with.

  7. Musk said imagine the most fun thing you can do in space and that is what they are going to do, so that means there will be drugs, booze, and an orgy at the very least. Can’t imagine they wouldn’t do regular sized person tossing too.

    1. Better find out how much marijuana smoke the environmental control system can handle. Cheech and Chong, your country needs you.

  8. He’s not an artist by the usual definition but I think Miles O’Brien should get a seat/cabin on this flight.

        1. I don’t care if Elon or someone else follows this up by landing on Mars to open a strip club. The goal is the exploitation, exploration, and colonization of the solar system

        2. You’re reading way more into my sentiment than is there. I’m not expressing any demand on how anyone spends their money, just expressing an opinion on who would make a worthy contribution on this trip. In fact I think an argument could be made that you would also make a good candidate Rand, but I would never insist someone pay your way against their will.

          Besides, it is very common for the media to be invited to cover new product launches, new excursion offerings, new business ventures etc. and this flight represents all of the above and then some.

        3. If you are going to go to all this trouble, it only seems logical you would want to properly document and represent it to the world.

      1. I don’t know why the writer(s) that he plans on inviting would be incapable of doing the reporting. Who is the audience for this adventure? Nerdy nerds or society at large? TBH, the nerdy nerds already get a lot of attention.

        Depending on who the author is, it could very well be they could write for an audience of nerdy nerds and the rest of society. I don’t think O’Brien can do that.

  9. I love this. Paying passengers paving the way out of LEO. I hope the government stays out of the way, except maybe as a paying customer.

  10. 100 people and 100 metric tons to the surface of Mars. No info on price or how many launches are needed to do the re-fueling.

    Also, it is a good thing Musk is on the leftists good side because referencing Tin Tin as inspiration would be societal excommunication for anyone else.

    1. Part of Musk’s genius for preemptively disarming potential critics. His customer got the artsy-fartsy lefty types disarmed. Elon has now added the French to the list.

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