Travel Around Earth on a Rocket
“Anywhere on Earth in under an hour.”
SpaceX’s Elon Musk is never short of ideas.
Would you like travel from Hong Kong to Singapore in 22 minutes? Or London to New York in 29 minutes?
Nearing the end of a speech at the 68th International Aeronautical Congress, Musk touched on an innovative idea. Have you ever thought about using rockets for long-distance travel about Earth?
Why not? Humans have been stuck with 4 methods of travel for pretty much a century (vehicle, aircraft, boat, and rail.) Besides walking.
It’s time to think big.
How Rocket Travel Would Work
Musk’s proposal goes like this:
Passengers take a ship (the water kind) from a dock in a city.
They arrive at a floating Launchpad where a rocket and ship (the space kind) awaits. This would be SpaceX’s proposed Very Big Rocket (nicknamed Big F*cking Rocket or BFR).
BFR zaps the spaceship into low-earth orbit. At its apex, the ship separates from the rocket and heads to another city at about 18,000 miles per hour. It lands on a similar ocean-based pad near the city.
SpaceX Rocket Benefits
BFR would be fast. Nowhere in the world would take much longer to reach than an hour. Contrast this with today’s commercial airline flights. A vacation from New York to Australia takes about 23 hours.
Problems with SpaceX
The immediate problem is that neither the new rocket or spaceship actually exist.
Also: price. On SpaceX’s own website, they estimate the cost for a flight by the current Falcon Heavy rocket at $90 million.
Estimates suggest the space ship’s capacity for travel to the Moon and Mars would be between 80 and 200 people per trip.
How would this ever be affordable for the average earth traveler?
Well, Musk suggests it could, and may in time cost about the same as an economy airline ticket.
Rocket Travel Risks and Safety
How would timid travelers cope with space travel? Takeoff and landing are problem areas. Airlines put great effort into reducing calming flying anxieties during takeoff and landing. Musk is proud that the last 16 Falcon 9 rockets landed successfully. SpaceX has become fairly adept at landing rockets both on both land and at sea.
To date, SpaceX has had more successes than failures. However, if we want to see this this technology work, we have to have a near perfect safety record. After all, flying on a plane is extremely safe, but not 100% safe.
Tesla and Musk are keen on safety. Tesla vehicles strive to have 5 stars in every safety category. That doesn’t mean 5 stars overall. That’s 5 stars in every category.
But the exploding rocket to successful rocket ratio is still too high for commercial passengers to jump eagerly on board.
The question also remains: How much demand is there? Supersonic passenger travel came and went in the form of Concorde. After a catastrophic accident, we no longer see commercial supersonic jets. Despite this, there has been talk of building a new Concorde. Up to 2018, the Concorde caused over 100 fatalities. One catastrophic failure and the Musk’s BFR is up in smoke.
The Concorde also failed because fuel costs were too high. Flights were uneconomical. Fuel is always a limiting factor in aviation.
Commercial Travel to Fund Space Exploration
From Space X’s point of view, it makes perfect sense. Commercial travel on a large scale could help fund missions to the moon or Mars. You would have dual uses for the hardware you build. SpaceX plans to launch two cargo ships to Mars by 2022.
Future of Air Travel
Musk plans to begin construction on Big F*cking Rocket in mid-2018. If it succeeds, BFR could make travel to the Moon and Mars possible. SpaceX could also revolutionize travel here on Earth. Just watch the skies.