SpaceX to name on Monday its first customer for BFR flight around Moon


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Capitalism in space: In a tweet SpaceX announced that it will name on Monday its first customer for flight around Moon, using its Big Falcon Rocket rather than the Falcon Heavy as previously announced.

There will be a lot of speculation over the next few days, but we must remember that the BFR is years away from launch, so nothing here is either set in concrete, nor even likely to happen.

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24 comments

  • Kirk

    Here is Eric Berger’s write up: SpaceX says its BFR will fly someone around the Moon; we have questions (Subtitled “Warning: Wild speculation in this story.”)

    * The rendering shows a lot of changes to the 2017 IAC BFR design. When asked if this was an updated version (vs. just an artist’s uninformed rendering), Musk tweeted “Yes”.

    * When asked if Musk himself was the passenger, he tweeted a Japanese flag.

    Berger goes on to speculate about the following questions:

    * When will the BFR and BFS be ready?
    * When will SpaceX say it is flying the mission?
    * When do you think it will happen?
    * So how will SpaceX pay for it?
    * Come on, man. Is any of this realistic?
    * So who is going?
    * Anything else you can tell us?

    My question would be: Why make the announcement at this time?

  • Kirk

    Here is a larger (2048 x 1152) version of the rendering. (New BFR design, passing by Moon.)

    Differences from the IAC 2017 design.
    * A tail fin. A large tail fin about the same size of the wings.
    * Three wide-spread landing legs incorporated into the end of the fin and wings giving it greater stability than the four legs incorporated into the body of the IAC 2017 design.
    * Articulated wings allowing them to be flat like the Space Shuttle or have a positive dihedral like Dream Chaser for reentry, then fold down so the legs form an equilateral triangle for landing.
    * Forward canards or thruster pod structures.
    * A return of the 2016 IAC design large, front picture window.
    * Seven sea level Raptor engines instead of the three sea level (increased from two shortly after IAC 2017) and four vacuum Raptor engines.
    * A system of articulated petals around the engine bay which may extend to form a single vacuum bell surrounding all seven Raptor engines.

    I’m not surprised to see a lot of changes from the IAC 2017 design, and while this is presumably a year closer to reality, I won’t be surprised to see more changes in the future.

  • geoffc

    If you think about it, a lunar orbit mission would be useful for SpaceX before doing a Mars mission.

    Test refueling in orbit. (Needed for MArs (6 refueling launches for Mars, 2 for Moon))
    Test manned spacecraft on shorter missions outside Earth orbit (Needed for Mars before commiting to multiple year missions).

    So not a terrible idea if you can get someone to cover the costs.

  • pzatchok

    When asked if he was nuttier than squirrel poop Musk answered “Yes”

  • Lee S

    There is some speculation that Tesla is a failing business, and he is acting nutty so he gets removed as the head of that company before it falls, and thus avoids the blame…
    I can buy this…. The guy is nothing but smart, and his passion is space…
    I certainly hope his current melt-down like behaviour is intended and not a genuine meltdown…

  • fred k

    Kirk says: “Why make the announcement at this time?”

    The original leak about a FH tourist flight around the moon occurred probably from someone at the White house. Seems that Elon was attempting some high level discussions with the new admin in order to sell some more services to the gov’t. He was letting them know that he had the intention to fly out of LEO and capability was simply a matter of time.

    Fast forward to your question. This is coming out to influence someone important that the BFR is actually happening in the near future. Maybe the Air Force?

  • Kirk

    ZachF, one of the contributors over on the NSF boards, does some excellent drawing. Here is a post of his with a “Pen drawing; comparison of New BFR vs old, Saturn V, Shuttle, FH, F9, NG.” Click on the image to get a 960 x 944 version.

  • Edward

    My question would be: why switch from the almost-ready Dragon/Falcon Heavy to the still-in-early-development BFR?

  • Edward: I wondered this as well. I suspect that in building Falcon Heavy they learned enough to decide it was better to start fresh for the manned deep space rocket.

  • Kirk

    Back in February, during the Falcon Heavy prelaunch press call Musk said that their plans changed in 2017 when they realized that “maybe we can make this BFR development go faster than we thought, and if that’s true, there won’t be much point in qualifying Falcon Heavy for launching Dragon, making it fully man-rated. So we kind of tabled the crewed Dragon on Falcon Heavy in favor of focusing our energies on BFR. “.

    BFR isn’t just their Mars rocket. It is also very important for their StarLink plan. Half of the 4,425-satellite LEO array must be in operation within six years of the 28 March 2018 FCC approval date, with other half three years after that. And that’s all before the 7,518 satellite VLEO component of the overall constellation, whose clock hasn’t started ticking since it hasn’t yet been approved. They’ll start with F9 and FH launches, but they need the volume of the BFR to finish populating the constellation economically. BFR making business sense is precisely the reason why I expect it not only to be built, but to be flying orbitally within four years or so.

    A crewed Dragon 2 lunar mission would have make a lot of headlines and brought in some cash, but in the end it would have been a distraction (yes, a wonderful distraction, but a distraction none the less), diverting their engineering resources from what is more important. How much better to have the customers pay you to build what you needed anyhow for your long term overall plans.

  • wodun

    So, they BFR/BFS is starting to look like a reusable version of the top mount shuttle variant proposed during the constellation days?

    Lee S

    There is some speculation that Tesla is a failing business, and he is acting nutty so he gets removed as the head of that company before it falls, and thus avoids the blame…

    I think the media is portraying him as more nutty than he actually is. If he doesn’t want to head Tesla, all he has to do is put someone else in charge. That works just as well for escaping blame. But really, that is what he needs to do anyway. He needs to find someone who can do operations management.

    Kirk

    A crewed Dragon 2 lunar mission would have make a lot of headlines and brought in some cash, but in the end it would have been a distraction (yes, a wonderful distraction, but a distraction none the less), diverting their engineering resources from what is more important.

    Yup! Once it became clear that BFR/BFS would make F9 and FH obsolete it didn’t make sense to put more money and manpower into FH and Dragon than what was needed to get crew to the ISS and make FH a product for the existing (and limited) market.

  • Lee S

    @ wodun…

    Calling someone a pedofile on twitter without providing any proof, and smoking weed on a public podcast is hardly “normal” behaviour for the CEO of any company.
    Don’t get me wrong… I’m a huge Musk fan… But either my comment was correct, or the guy REALLY needs to get more sleep!

  • MarcusZ1967

    @Lee S,

    Did you actually watch the podcast? Or just see the msm results?

    First I’d heard about this, I watched a Joe Scott cast. Then I watched the Rogan cast and Joe was correct.
    https://youtu.be/k1YmM9CvzBI

  • Edward

    There has been some progress toward BFR development, so it is reasonable to think that it will become operational in a reasonable amount of time. Musk has stated that his current public timeline is more aspirational (i.e. optimistic) than realistic, but they have begun testing their new engine, built and probably are testing a sample propellant tank, and have a manufacturing site that they are or soon will be populating with manufacturing equipment.

    SpaceX has demonstrated that they are able and willing to develop rockets and new technology quickly and with relatively little expense. Not much from SpaceX surprises me, anymore.

    Although it is a bit disappointing to lose about half a decade of manned operations above low Earth orbit (LEO), due to not qualifying Falcon Heavy for manned launches, there does not seem to be any need for manned operations higher than LEO within that half decade. (F)LOP-G/Gateway-to-Nowhere will not necessarily need it — and since its purpose is to give Orion-SLS a purpose, SpaceX would not necessarily be hired to take anyone there anyway. No one seems ready to do anything manned on the Moon for a while, so BFR is likely to be ready by the time anyone needs it.

    It seems that SpaceX puts strategic thought into prioritizing its resource expenditures. Probably one reason why they can do such rapid, inexpensive development.

  • Richard M

    Also: Development money is likely to be rather tight until SpaceX starts realizing revenue from Starlink.

    I don’t know what it would cost to human-rate Falcon Heavy to NASA”s satisfaction, or what it would cost to modify Dragon for a lunar flight. But it’s not unreasonable to think the combined cost could run into 9 figures. And SpaceX would rather save every possible dollar for BFR, since that’s essential to their long-term plans, and Falcon Heavy and Dragon are not.

  • wayne

    Ref; Musk….
    The Wall Street Journal hates his guts. (I personally dislike electric cars, but I can’t argue with SpaceX, and can’t speak to the current subject matter authoritatively)
    Bad press on Musk, I view with a leery eye. (It’s largely Fake News and manufactured conflict.)

    The Rogan/Musk podcast; I like Rogan, but he wasted 2 hours and totally revealed his deficiencies in certain subject areas.

    [as an alternate, I suggest; Dave Rubin has a lengthy brand new interview with Peter Thiel, who has nothing but good stuff to say about Musk, and interesting stuff to say about everything else.]

    As for the “weed smoking,” that allegedly went on, he (Musk) barely took a puff off of a weed+tobacco spliffer, (and unlike Bill Clinton) didn’t inhale a whole lot. He was however nursing a tumbler of whiskey on the rocks.

    and with that….

    Joe Rogan ‘s Susquehanna Moment
    -adult language-
    https://youtu.be/BlKPBcDCiwk
    2:13

  • Wayne: I would prefer you would not link to youtube videos that begin spouting obscenities from almost the second line of dialogue. Turns me off, and as you know I try to keep BtB at a somewhat higher more civilized level.

  • wayne

    Understood.
    I’ll endeavor to keep a grip on myself.

  • Kirk

    Two new renders have been released, showing a full up BFR featuring the new BFS design. Here’s one.

    And here’s the other.

    Musk mentioned that the booster is still supposed to have grid fins, but they were accidentally left off these renders.

  • Kirk

    And here’s the other.

    Musk mentioned that the booster is still supposed to have grid fins, but they were accidentally left off these renders.

  • Kirk

    Hmm, the post preceding that one disappeared. Trying again …

    Two more renders have been released, showing the full-up BFR stack in flight. Here’s one.

  • Kirk: Your first comment included two links. When a comment has two links, it must be approved by me. Be patient, I will get to it. Posting again is unnecessary.

  • Kirk

    Thanks Bob. That was an editing error on my part as I had intended to put up only one link per post to save you having to approve them, though I did put links to all three renders in one post on the latest thread figuring that it would be worth it to save the clutter.

    I suppose this is as good a place as any to renew my thanks to you for hosting this site and for enduring your readers’ foibles. Thanks!

  • Anthony Domanico

    Kirk,

    Sorry for posting on an older article, but regarding a comment you made about one of the changes made to BFR, I believe it is incorrect. Your comment suggested that the facets surrounding the engines of BFS are some kind of articulating system to help vacuum optimize the engines. Although this would be a very cool technology I believe their true purpose is much more mundane. In Musk’s presentation the graphics displayed at 0:39:33 in the video time suggests they are some kind of storage. If anyone has more information that can confirm or challenge this please speak up.

    If it’s true, I wonder why they decided to locate it there. Possibly due to easier access when the BFS is vertical after landing? In the Mars configuration I would think it would be advantageous to use storage as additional radiation shielding. As it’s displayed in the presentation noted above it’s only useful to mitigate against Solar flares assuming the vehicle is oriented correctly. Given Musk’s attitude towards the dangers of radiation in space travel it’s possible the engineers aren’t as focused on mitigating it’s effects.

    “First Private Passenger on Lunar BFR Mission”
    YouTube channel: SpaceX
    Length: 1:44:12
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=zu7WJD8vpAQ

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