SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk took the stage at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia to give an update on how the company will one day colonize Mars. Here’s what we know:
1. The new version of the Big Fucking Rocket (BFR) or Interplanetary Transport System is slightly smaller than what SpaceX originally designed. This time, the more compact spacecraft is capable of completing missions to low-Earth orbit, the moon, and Mars. SpaceX hopes the spacecraft will replace ALL of its current vehicles. The Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and Dragon capsule.
2. SpaceX has already successfully pressure tested a prototype carbon fiber fuel tank that will hold the ship’s propellant––liquid oxygen and methane in the cryogenic state. The carbon material means a lighter spacecraft.
3. SpaceX will be using what they’ve learned about propulsively landing the Falcon 9 booster on multiple occasions and apply those principles to the BFG––a ship they claim can land anywhere in the solar system.
4. SpaceX has already test-fired the Raptor engine at its Mcgregor testing facility in Texas. Elon Musk claims it is the most powerful engine ever conceptualized. The BFR will use 31 of them to power its flight to Mars.
5. Reusability is key in SpaceX’s vision and the Dragon has proven to be a valuable asset in learning how to create a heat shield to protect humans upon reentry to orbit. Dragon has also been teaching SpaceX how to perfect automatic rendezvous and docking.
6. The BFR has a new Delta Wing to increase the versatility of the spacecraft and so navigators can better control the aerodynamic pitch when the spacecraft is entering an atmosphere. The Delta Wing allows the BFR to land safely regardless of the planetary destination.
7. The BFR will be the most powerful rocket ever conceptualized and has the capability to carry 150 tons of payload to low-Earth orbit and Mars. The Saturn V that took humans to the moon was capable of 135 tons.
8. Elon Musk says if the fully reusable BFR is in regular use, the only costs of operating would be from filling the tank with relatively cheap methane and oxygen. Therefore, it would cost less to operate than any other rocket in the world. Remember, SpaceX is still the only company to make a breakthrough in rocket reusability
9. SpaceX hopes to start building the first BFR in 6-9 months and have the first pair completed in 5 years. Elon Musk says they want to launch two uncrewed cargo missions to Mars carrying the necessary materials and equipment to build what essentially is a gas station for the massive spacecraft. The first mission will also help scout locations, find water resources, and discover any potential hazards.
10. Two years after their first cargo mission, SpaceX hopes to launch four of these interplanetary ships to Mars with two of them carrying passengers. The other two ships will carry even more equipment that will help build a water plant and greenhouse. This will likely be the first human mission to a new world.
11. Launching to Mars isn’t like the movies. The passenger spacecraft will have to be launched and placed in a parking orbit while the booster flies home multiple times to bring a fuel tanker to orbit as well. That fuel tanker will mate with the passenger spacecraft a handful of times before each mission to top off its fuel tank. This is crucial in carrying the maximum payload allowed by the spacecraft. Luckily, no booster is needed to leave Mars or the moon since they have little to no atmosphere.
However, fuel will be needed to come home from Mars and the reason why building the processing facility first is so important.
12. Elon Musk says that due to the long journey required by a Mars mission, 40 cabins will be available for passengers to stay in. At most, these cabins can hold up to six people or three people comfortably. The pressurized section will also have a solar storm shelter to protect the crew from sudden bursts of radiation. Musk previously mentioned amenities like a movie theatre and restaurant.
13. SpaceX claims it can launch its BFR to the moon without the necessity of having to refuel the spaceship on the surface for a return trip. This is SpaceX speaking directly to NASA, who is planning to return to the moon soon on its own heavily-delayed and far more expensive SLS rocket. Will they contract SpaceX to carry out their lunar missions? SpaceX seems to think it might be possible.
14. One of the ways SpaceX plans to make money with the BFR is to continue servicing the International Space Station for NASA. Whether that means delivering supplies or taxiing crew.
15.The best way for SpaceX to save the cash needed for Mars? To continue what it’s doing today just on a larger scale. The BFR can carry much larger satellites than SpaceX is used to on the Falcon 9 rocket. This will open a whole new line of business for them and add to their clientele. Elon Musk says a mirror telescope 10x the size of Hubble can fit inside the BFR cargo bay. He also said the vehicle can scoop up derelict space debris––another way to earn cash.
16. And last but not least. The BFR multi-purpose vehicle is just that. It also has the capability to shorten global city to city flights to under an hour. How? By launching passengers to space at thousands of miles per hour and bringing them back down directly to their destination. SpaceX claims you can travel from New York City to Shanghai in 39 minutes using the BFR.
Robin Seemangal is a Space Reporter, with a focus on NASA and advocacy for space exploration for the New York Observer. He’s also written for Popular Science and Wired Magazine. He was born and raised in Brooklyn, where he currently resides. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram.