During SpaceX’s BFR / BFS lunar event, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa discusses why he wants to take six to eight artists with him to the moon.
SpaceX, Florida Today
LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Perhaps the biggest surprise when Elon Musk unveiled SpaceX’s plans for a new giant rocket to the moon last week wasn’t how futuristic it appears.
Rather, it was how much it looks like spaceships of our imaginations.
Landing vertically with three big fins, the BFR, as the rocket has been dubbed, looks somewhat like so many of those finned spaceships landing on distant planets in old science-fiction movies — not like the more ungainly craft seen in films like in “2001: A Space Odyssey” or even in real life, like the lunar lander that delivered Neil Armstrong to the moon in 1969.
As turns out, Musk, the billionaire who is CEO of the rocket maker as well as Tesla, the electric car maker, said looks played a role, not just functionality, in the design.
“There’s more than one way to solve this problem,” he said.
He said the new design’s three fins act both to control the rocket and as its landing gear. The design is “slightly riskier” than the previous one, which had six legs. In both cases, two of the three fins can direct the rocket.
The basic look of the rocket was just one surprise. Here are others:
•It’s big. At 387.1 feet, it will be taller than the Saturn V rocket that powered the Apollo missions to the moon. It will also be 82 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty. It is being designed to take more than 220 tons to Mars.
•It’s expensive. But so far, the costs don’t appear unmanageable. Musk said development of the BFR is taking about 5 percent of the rocket maker’s resources at the moment, but the program will become more costly as it goes on. He said the BFR should cost about $5 billion to develop — not less than $2 billion, but not more than $10 billion. The Japanese billionaire who expects to be the first paying passenger for a flight around the moon in 2023, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, has already made a down payment. He hasn’t said how much.
“Funding BFR is a key question. We need to seek every possible means of funding,” Musk said.
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•BFR can go anywhere. Must said he envisions the BFR as not just for going to the Moon, or even to Mars. Once at Mars, with refueling, he said it can go anywhere in the solar system.
Indeed, Musk said the purpose of SpaceX is “to help advance rocket technology to a point where we can potentially become a multi-planet species,” which could possibly become a necessity because of the threat of nuclear war, disease or other disasters that would otherwise wipe out humans on earth.
With “refueling depots” on distant planets or their moons, BFR can roam the solar system, he said.
•It’s versatile. The rocket is designed to be able to land on planets with atmospheres or none at all. To land in planets where there is atmosphere, it uses “its entire body to brake, then falls like a skydiver,” Musk said. Then, it straightens up and lands vertically on its three legs, same as SpaceX has been doing in returning its booster rockets to earth on Falcon 9 missions.
•It’s spacious. At as much as 1,100 square feet inside the spaceship portion, Musk said he can envision it having both private rooms and group areas on a weeks- or months-long flight. Musk said it was designed to hold up to 100 Mars emigrants. But the round-the-moon flight, it will be carrying about a dozen people, including a group of artists and writers that Maezawa said he plans to bring along.
•It’s happening sooner than you’d think. Plans call for a series of tests, followed by unnamed missions, followed by an unnamed mission around the world. The target date to send it around the moon with people aboard is 2023, but Musk said it’s a date that could slip.
•Different launch sites are planned. The spaceship portion will be tested at a launch facility nearly Brownsville along the Texas coast. In other tests, the ship could be launched from a barge. It won’t land on the moon initially. Rather the trip that Maezawa is taking will go around. Musk said the route hasn’t been decided. It could zoom close to the moon’s surface then pull out farther in an elliptical route.
•Oy, that name. BFR supposedly stands for Big Falcon Rocket, a nod to the workhorse of the SpaceX fleet, the Falcon 9 that boosts satellites into orbit. But the BFR designation may not stick. “We should probably think of a different name,” Musk said.
He indicated he’s thinking of something more romantic, especially for the spaceship portion of the craft. Such as the Heart of Gold, from the spaceship in the “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” by Douglas Adams.
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