The Tesla Roadster 2020 is going to be out of this world. Over the weekend, CEO Elon Musk revealed new information about the SpaceX options package, a mysterious bundle set to add a series of thrusters to the upcoming hypercar.
Responding on Twitter to a Back to the Future-style concept art of the 2020 Roadster, Musk instead described the Roadster equipped with the package as “subtle.” The feature will be “hidden behind the license plate,” Musk explained, suggesting the feature may actually pack a powerful punch through a James Bond-style secret compartment.
It all adds up to a car that could make its lucky few drivers feel like international spies rocking the ultimate in gadget-equipped cars. But while real-world spies normally avoid attention, the Roadster has been regularly turning heads since its November 2017 reveal.
The Roadster’s pre-announced spec sheet looks like an electric car wishlist. It has a 200-kilowatt-hour battery capable of running for 620 miles on a single charge. It can reach a speed of 0 to 60 mph in 1.9 seconds, 0 to 100 mph in 4.2 seconds, and complete a quarter-mile in 8.8 seconds. Its top speed ranks at over 250 mph, and yet still manages to fit four seats into its interior.
Driver Emile Bouret has described those stats as “conservative.” Little wonder, perhaps, that the car starts with an asking price of $200,000 or $250,000 for a Founders Edition.
Tesla Roadster 2020: How the SpaceX Options Work
Soon after the Roadster’s reveal, announced at the same event as the Semi electric truck, Musk began teasing the prospect of a flying Roadster:
Not saying the next gen Roadster special upgrade package will definitely enable it to fly short hops, but maybe … Certainly possible. Just a question of safety. Rocket tech applied to a car opens up revolutionary possibilities.
Musk previously dismissed flying cars in April 2017 as a stray hub cap could “guillotine” a pedestrian.
During Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting in June 2018, Musk went one further and declared the car would feature a SpaceX options package.
Days after the feature’s name was announced, Musk finally detailed a little bit more about what this would involve. Around 10 small rocket thrusters would be arranged “seamlessly” around the car, which will “dramatically improve acceleration, top speed, braking & cornering” and “maybe…even allow a Tesla to fly.”
It would use ultra high-pressure air contained in a SpaceX rocket COPV bottle to power a cold gas thruster system. A composite overwrapped pressure vessel, designed to hold a fluid, caused a Falcon 9 to explode in 2015. Musk described the Roadster’s ones as “literally bulletproof” and “what SpaceX is qualifying for NASA crewed missions.” The bottle would be immediately replenished as the vehicle’s power pack draw enabled operation, which Musk assured was most of the time.
One downside of the package is the bottles will likely take up the two rear seats, reducing the number of passengers. Musk noted at the time that this was “probably wise for many reasons.”
As for how much this boost may offer? In June 2019, Musk told the Ride the Lightning podcast that it could offer up to three Gs of thrust. This would be about the maximum experienced by astronauts during a rocket launch. Musk said: “If you have 3 Gs of thrust, you can go in any direction. You can go up and accelerate with still more than 2 Gs.”
All that power may be hard to handle. In June 2018, Musk suggested the car would come with an “augmented mode” that will “massively enhance human driving ability. Like a flying metal suit, but in car form.” This is on top of Autopilot, the semi-autonomous driving mode expected to enable full self-driving at a later date.
Musk has been gradually ramping up the rhetoric around the package. In January 2019, he responded to an image of a floating DeLorean car with “the new Roadster will actually do something like this.”
Tesla only expects to produce around 10,000 Roadsters per year, compared to a company expected total of around half a million cars in 2019. Pricing for the SpaceX package is unknown, but considering the engineering at play, it could wind up costing a pretty penny.