Just one year after Elon Musk explained how SpaceX is going to turn humanity into a “multi-planet species,” the serial entrepreneur is at it again with yet another audacious claim. Speaking to a full house at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, Musk said that the same rocket that will get people to Mars and the Moon will be used to ferry passengers around the globe too. During an on-stage demonstration, the SpaceX CEO claimed passengers will be able to make “most long distance trips” in just 30 minutes and go “anywhere on Earth in under an hour.” All for the price of an economy airline ticket to boot.
In the video demonstration, passengers get on a large boat at a dock in New York City which takes them to a floating launchpad out at sea, similar to the kind SpaceX already uses to land reusable Falcon 9s. They then board a spaceship strapped to a mega-rocket codenamed “Big Fucking Rocket” or BFR for short and launch into space. However, instead of leaving Earth’s atmosphere, the spaceship breaks off from the rocket and heads to Shanghai. Some 7,000 miles and 39 minutes later, the ship touches down on another floating pad, in Chinese waters. Other trips include Hong Kong to Singapore in 22 minutes, London to Dubai or New York in 29 minutes, and Los Angeles to Toronto in 24 minutes.
Essentially, Musk just proposed the fastest means of transporting people yet. Forget the Concorde — at its peak, this trip will take you around the world at 18,000 miles per hour.
“It’s 2017, we should have a lunar base by now,” he said during his 40-minute speech. “What the hell has been going on?”
“If we’re building this thing to go to the moon and Mars, why not go other places as well?” Musk casually remarked.
Is this madness?
The initial design of the rocket unveiled last year and supposed to carry people to Mars where they’d settle a ‘self-sustaining city within 40 to 100 years,’ was a tad too ambitious. It was supposed to be 254 feet tall (77.5 meters) or even an impressive 400 feet (122 m) high when combined with the crew spaceship. Powered by 42 Raptor engines, the transport system could fit 100 people, maybe up to 200. Now, in Australia, Elon Musk stepped down a bit and presented a resized, more reasonable version. The name was also changed from Interplanetary Transport System (ITS) to the BFR. It all sounds like a big fat joke really but Musk has enough credit to get off the hook.
The BFR system will be fully reusable and capable of carrying up to 100 people or so in a pressurized passenger space larger than in an Airbus A380 airplane. Besides people, the launch system will be capable of ferrying cargo across the globe or to and from the International Space Station. It will also be powerful enough to reach the moon and Mars. It will also launch satellites, an important funding source according to Musk.
At least two cargo ships would land on the Red Planet in 2022, tasked with finding water, he said. Humans would soon follow a few years later.
It’s interesting to note, however, that Musk — who has never traveled to Earth’s low orbit himself — seems to think passengers are enthusiastic about going into space as he is. Provided it’s all super safe, how many people will be willing to go through the hassle of boarding a spaceship just to save half a day of traveling? Perhaps this man’s vision is just too outlandish. Perhaps he’s just projecting the future as it ought to be. Perhaps it’s all just a mad fantasy.
When it will be ready, Musk told the audience gathered at the conference that all other SpaceX rockets and spacecraft will be replaced as they’ll become obsolete. Exactly ‘when’ is anyone’s guess at this point but Musk did claim that he hopes SpaceX will start fitting the first nut and bolt six to nine months from now.
“I feel fairly confident we can build the ship and be ready for the launch in five years. Five years seems like a long time for me,” Mr Musk said.
“I can’t think of anything more exciting than being out there among the stars,” he ended.