The history of SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket

Week Three: Ninth Anniversary Fund-Raising Drive for Behind the Black

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Link here. This is a ten part very detailed history, and includes a great deal of background into the history of SpaceX as well. Very much worth reading.

In the end, I remain skeptical that this rocket will end up being built as SpaceX presently envisions it. I also believe however that out of this engineering research will come a new rocket that is nonetheless revolutionary.



  • geoffc

    Anything specific you are doubtful about?

    Large number of engines?

    Large composite vehicle structure?

    On Mars infrastructure?
    Hab modules

    In transit issues?

    Curious which part (s?) specifically concern you.

    All of them need development and testing, which is going to be so interesting to watch as they try.

  • geoffc: All of these factors raise doubts. As you say, they all require “development and testing,” which is certainly going to reveal issues that will require rethinking and redesign.

    I didn’t say it won’t be built, I said it will not be what we presently expect.

  • geoffc

    Robert: That sounds like a fair argument. Time will tell, and I am rooting for them. Step by step they have to prove their way. As they have done so far.

    Their ability to pivot and change approaches is an excellent sign, I guess specifically to your point.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    Think Bob is both right and wrong.

    The current iterations of the BFR components (booster, transport, tanker & cargo) will be build and be operational.

    However since SpaceX is building the BFR at the port of LA instead of Hawthorne. There is no more constraint on the diameter size of future SpaceX vehicles. It is not that hard to imagine a 15+ meter diameter booster and/or spaceship following the BFR.

    Think the BFR system is on the small size for a Martian colonial transport. If Musk wants to have a lot of colonists on Mars quickly. Then hauling about a thousand per flight to Mars will be more efficient and cost less. Since a bigger spaceship is cheaper to operated than many smaller spaceships.

    There are niches for several different spacecraft sizes in the future, IMO. Just like there are different aircraft sizes for various tasks.

  • wodun

    Certainly the BFR/BFS will change before it is operational. It has already changed several times since it was first announced and who knows what the current concept is?

    Think the BFR system is on the small size for a Martian colonial transport. If Musk wants to have a lot of colonists on Mars quickly. Then hauling about a thousand per flight to Mars will be more efficient and cost less. Since a bigger spaceship is cheaper to operated than many smaller spaceships.

    From Musk’s presentation a while back, it looked like a BFR/BFS would launch into LEO and then 3 or 4 more would be launched to fuel the BFS heading to Mars. But from Mars to Earth, it would just be the one launch.

    I think that part of the problem in getting the ticket price down is the number of reuses. A BFS sitting on Mars between launch seasons isn’t going to be used frequently enough to drive down shared costs. But you do need a fleet of BFS on Mars.

    A way to drive up reuses and drastically increase passengers is for there to be an interplanetary space ship that travels from Earth to Mars and back. This would allow for each BFS to make numerous launches during launch seasons. It then becomes very easy to see tens of thousands of passengers with ticket prices that won’t be in the millions. But Musk can’t, or doesn’t want to be, the one who builds this space ship.

    From my limited understanding, the main drawback to this is orbital dynamics from transit time and being able to match the speed for rendezvous at each planet.

    Initially, it could work to just use the BFR/BFS but after the infrastructure is in place to support BFS and people on Mars, then maybe it will make sense to have actual space ships dedicated to traversing just one environment.

  • Col Beausabre

    Two comments. First, almost assuredly BFR will cost more and take longer that planned as unexpected problems crop up. My dad was an engineer who spent about a decade and half in R&D and he phrased it this way, “If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be research” Second, the one constant rule in transportation is that idle vehicles (planes, trains, ships, trucks, ox carts, you name it) cost you money so the slogan one company had – “Don’t stand ’em still” – expressed the golden rule. For transports to sit either on Earth or Mars because of the position of the planets is something that will kill any commercial operation.

  • geoffc

    @Col Your point about sitting on Mars is a good one.

    But you will note they have a two stage model.

    First stage booster, used a lot (up to 1000 flights, in theory)
    Tanker second stages used a lot, but less ( Up to 100 times)
    Mars vehicle used a lot less (12 times, assuming 2 years per mission).

    So they need a bunch of first stages to handle Tanker, Mars and Cargo missions. If they do Earth 2 Earth they will need a bunch of human vehicles, closer to Mars vehicles, but it is unclear if that is a sub orbital hop with just the second stage, or need a first stage as well.

    Of course, first stage needs 31 engines, and upper stages only need 7. But assuming they build at least 5 first stages, that amortizes the engine costs across a LOT of units. 150 engines is a larger run than the SSME, RD-180, RS-68, and most other engines except Merlin (on Falcon) and Atlas’s main engine. And that is just for first stages, the second stage engines get cheaper as a consequence.

    They seem to be using the same mandrel and diameter for upper and lower stages, which should help keep equipment costs down (perhaps).

  • pzatchok

    As for seat prices.

    Run a world wide lottery. 50 bucks a ticket.

    A winner still needs to physically and educationally qualify but the winner can sell their ticket to the highest bidder if they want. Or just give it away if they want.

    No flight day is actually set either.
    But they could make great gifts like those Name a Star companies.

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