SpaceX's Shotwell on BFR Earth Trips: "This Is Definitely Going to Happen"
When Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president, was interviewed at the 2018 TED conference in April in Vancouver, she spoke of how the aerospace company headed by Elon Musk would take people across the planet in a half-hour, thanks for the BFR — Big Falcon Rocket — which is in development by the company. On Monday TED released the full interview for the public to see.
In the interview, Shotwell talks about a “residual capability” of the BFR, the original capability of which is to launch a spaceship to Mars. It’s space travel for Earthlings, she says: “We’re going to fly BFR like an aircraft and do point-to-point travel on Earth so you can take off from New York City or Vancouver, and fly halfway across the globe,” she says in the interview. “You’ll be on the BFR for roughly half an hour, 40 minutes, and the longest part of that flight is actually the boat out [to the floating launch pad] and back.” The cost per ticket will be between a business and economy class ticket, she says, a price-point made possible by the rapid trips the rocket will take.
The rocket plan was first introduced by Musk last year at the International Astronautical Congress in Australia.
While Mars launches comprise the primary mission for designing the rocket, those “Earth-to-Earth” trips (Shanghai to New York City: 39 minutes), may be most people’s experiences inside the launch vehicle will be on those Earth trips. As for Mars, Musk said the ambitious goal is to send cargo to Mars, launched by the BFR, in 2022. Much of the development right now is on the Raptor engines, Shotwell has said. Those engines are being developed by SpaceX at its facility in McGregor, Texas.
“If you build a ship that’s capable of going to Mars, what if you take that same ship and go from one place to another on Earth?” Musk said at the IAC conference back in September. The idea is an evolution of something Musk briefly considered during his 2016 IAC presentation in Guadalajara, Mexico, in which he suggested SpaceX’s rockets could be used for super-fast cargo delivery between cities.
So when will these trips happen? As Shotwell says in the interview that was released on Monday, within the next ten years. First, SpaceX must complete development of the BFR, which is about 2.5 times the size of the Falcon Heavy, which had its first-ever launch in February.
If you want to get a sense of the the trips, this video released by Musk last year offers the vision of a tantalizing future: