SpaceX Plans to Replace Long-Haul Flights with Rocket Travel

DooKey

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You can't say Elon Musk and his ventures aren't forward thinking because his SpaceX company is planning to replace long-haul aircraft flights with rocket transportation in the next 10 years. The idea is to use the BFR to launch 100 passengers on a trip to anywhere in the world within half an hour in some instances. Supposedly the cost will be around a standard business-class fare for the same distance. The cost will be low because they can reuse the rockets and launch multiple rockets everyday. Sounds good to me and I can't wait to see this happen.

Shotwell announced that SpaceX will, in the next decade, launch rockets for international travel. A trip from London to Shanghai, for instance, would take as little as a half an hour, and cost somewhere around what a business-class trip the same distance would. “It’s space travel for earthlings,” she says.
 

the-one1

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Its gotta be pretty damn loud on a rocket, right?

BAWWWRRRRRROROOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 

DeathFromBelow

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It makes sense. Why spend time slowly crawling through the atmosphere with jet engines when you could just hop over most of it?

We haven't been doing this already because the tech wasn't quite there yet.
 

gigaxtreme1

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So special pressure suits for the high G forces? Can't get away from the high G even in suborbital.
 

admiralperpetual

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can someone who is good at science tell me how much worse this would be environmentally than current jet travel?
 
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If you didn't spend 80% of a rocket's fuel lifting the rocket's fuel this would be more than a guy dreaming with one hand down his pants.

Of course we do and this idea is stupid because of it.

Develop SSTO spaceplanes with hybrid engines and this can happen. Those wouldn't be rockets though.
 

gamerk2

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If you didn't spend 80% of a rocket's fuel lifting the rocket's fuel this would be more than a guy dreaming with one hand down his pants.

Of course we do and this idea is stupid because of it.

Develop SSTO spaceplanes with hybrid engines and this can happen. Those wouldn't be rockets though.
You forget that's basically the same for airplanes. Besides, the fuel is cheap all things considered. And there would certainly be a market for those who currently fly first class; they sit on an airplane going across the pacific for 9 hours when you can instead throw a few thousand to get there in an hour?
 

Spidey329

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Supposedly the cost will be around a standard business-class fare for the same distance.

Even at $10,000 per seat, that's only $1mil. There's no way they keep this at the cost of business travel. Unless they meant business travel if each person chartered their own private jet.

There's also the little thing of how they're landing, is this a shuttle?
 

WhoMe

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can someone who is good at science tell me how much worse this would be environmentally than current jet travel?
Depends on how many. Really studies on rocket impact are just being done, so hopefully we'll better understands it in the near future. If a lot of rockets were used ozone depletion might be a problem (right now they account for about 1% of ozone damage since their aren't a lot of them being used...that figure might be a little old, but still even with SpaceX etc. I doubt it's much).
For now this covers some of the basics. There are so many complications in going sub-orbital, this may just remain a dream, or it may go the way of the Concorde with a few examples being made and the cost being a lot higher than was projected.
 

oROEchimaru

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we need something better than rockets... i think its great but 100 years from now i hope it is a "old tech" like 1960s - 2020... and we have something new and revolutionary to get off the ground without destroying stuff or burning up fuel. I'm ok with a slingshot lol
 

pcgeekesq

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If you didn't spend 80% of a rocket's fuel lifting the rocket's fuel this would be more than a guy dreaming with one hand down his pants. Of course we do and this idea is stupid because of it..
Nonsense. Rocket fuel is cheap. Time, on the other hand, is money.
Cutting London-to-Sydney from the current 21 hours to an hour is easily worth the cost of the rocket fuel to do it -- 20 hours is over $5000 at a cheap attorney's billing rate.

But here, have some math: The BFR 2nd stage (the part that would be used to do transcontinental hops) holds 240,000 kg of methane and 860,000 kg of LOX. That's about $100K of methane (at $7 per thousand cubic feet) and about $140,000 of LOX (at $0.16 per kilogram, the price NASA was paying five years ago). It would probably carry 240 passengers. That leads to a fuel cost, if it's all burned, of $1000 per passenger -- very affordable.
 
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You forget that's basically the same for airplanes. Besides, the fuel is cheap all things considered. And there would certainly be a market for those who currently fly first class; they sit on an airplane going across the pacific for 9 hours when you can instead throw a few thousand to get there in an hour?
No not even remotely. Not even in the greatest stretch of imagination. Aeroplanes carry a lot of fuel, yes, but they use around 25% of their fuel on carrying fuel. The reason is that the other component of their combustion is atmosphere, our atmosphere is just full of atmosphere. That's why S.A.B.R.E. is a thing, if a spaceplane could switch from atmosphere to LH/LO2 that means they reduce the amount of oxidizer they have to carry enormously. It also means you can run your engine at 100 or even 200 to 1 so you reduce the amount of fuel you need, not to mention being able to use the lift of a the atmosphere to gather speed without using an enormous explosion to hammer the payload up to speed.

leaving the atmosphere requires an absolutely massive amount of energy, to just plop someone straight back into the atmosphere would be not just incredibly wasteful, but outrageously expensive. You could easily charter private jets solo for less money, like a lot less money.

Hell, super sonic jets aren't worth me money or trouble, you have to blow through the sound barrier in seconds to make it to orbit in a rocket. The old shuttle went super sonic at 45 seconds.

This whole concept is the height of idiocy in a world with Skype.
 

griffinhart

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This is an interesting take on this:

He does a pretty effective job of explaining why this will not work or happen.
 

pcgeekesq

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No not even remotely. Not even in the greatest stretch of imagination. Aeroplanes carry a lot of fuel, yes, but they use around 25% of their fuel on carrying fuel.
A 747-400 carries 422,000 pounds of jet fuel, about 63,000 gallons, to get from LA to Sydney. That's about $180,000 worth of fuel at $2.85/gallon, not that much less than the $240,0000 cost of fully-fueling a BFR, and it's for a shorter but much more time consuming trip than the London-to-Sydney example I gave before. Passengers don't care whether you burn that fuel lifting fuel (as the BFR does more of) or fighting drag (which is what the 747 does more of). They do care about spending half-a-day less in a can.

This whole concept is the height of idiocy in a world with Skype.
Because Skype is just like being there ... NOT.
 

griffinhart

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Nonsense. Rocket fuel is cheap. Time, on the other hand, is money.
Cutting London-to-Sydney from the current 21 hours to an hour is easily worth the cost of the rocket fuel to do it -- 20 hours is over $5000 at a cheap attorney's billing rate.

But here, have some math: The BFR 2nd stage (the part that would be used to do transcontinental hops) holds 240,000 kg of methane and 860,000 kg of LOX. That's about $100K of methane (at $7 per thousand cubic feet) and about $140,000 of LOX (at $0.16 per kilogram, the price NASA was paying five years ago). It would probably carry 240 passengers. That leads to a fuel cost, if it's all burned, of $1000 per passenger -- very affordable.
Fuel cost isn't what makes airlines expensive.
 

PaulP

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Personally I wouldn't bet against Elon; he has made too many of his detractors look like fools when he did what they claimed he would not be able to do.
 
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Nonsense. Rocket fuel is cheap. Time, on the other hand, is money.
Cutting London-to-Sydney from the current 21 hours to an hour is easily worth the cost of the rocket fuel to do it -- 20 hours is over $5000 at a cheap attorney's billing rate.

But here, have some math: The BFR 2nd stage (the part that would be used to do transcontinental hops) holds 240,000 kg of methane and 860,000 kg of LOX. That's about $100K of methane (at $7 per thousand cubic feet) and about $140,000 of LOX (at $0.16 per kilogram, the price NASA was paying five years ago). It would probably carry 240 passengers. That leads to a fuel cost, if it's all burned, of $1000 per passenger -- very affordable.
The space shuttle used $1.4 million worth of LFO per launch, plus two huge solid boosters. You are not going to see 240 passengers on a rocket. Not ever.

The day a flight of 240 people leaves the atmosphere it won't be on a rocket.

It costs $50,000 to lift a single pound of stuff into orbit. Sub orbital trajectories would reduce that, but to nothing even remotely close to the average of five bucks a pound you're allowing for humans.
 

pcgeekesq

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You are not going to see 240 passengers on a rocket. Not ever.
And yet the Wikipedia entry for the BFR uses that number. How do you know that it is wrong?

It costs $50,000 to lift a single pound of stuff into orbit.
Where are you getting that number? It's provably wrong, because SpaceX is currently charging $62 million to lift 12,000 pounds to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) on a Falcon 9. That's $5,123 per pound. The Falcon 9 can lift 2.5 times as much to LEO, so I'd assume that the LEO $/pound is even less. Source: http://www.spacex.com/about/capabilities
 

griffinhart

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A 747-400 carries 422,000 pounds of jet fuel, about 63,000 gallons, to get from LA to Sydney. That's about $180,000 worth of fuel at $2.85/gallon, not that much less than the $240,0000 cost of fully-fueling a BFR, and it's for a shorter but much more time consuming trip than the London-to-Sydney example I gave before. Passengers don't care whether you burn that fuel lifting fuel (as the BFR does more of) or fighting drag (which is what the 747 does more of). They do care about spending half-a-day less in a can.


Because Skype is just like being there ... NOT.
135 shuttle launches. Two complete failures.
52 Space-X falcon heavy launches. 13 failures.
92 rocket launches in 2014. 88 were successful.

On the other hand. 37 million commercial flights in 2014. 12 commercial aviation accidents.

Would someone want to take a flight that has a 1 in 3+ million chances of crashing, or a rocket that has a 1 in 20 chance of failing, all to save AT BEST a half a day.
 

pcgeekesq

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Personally I wouldn't bet against Elon; he has made too many of his detractors look like fools when he did what they claimed he would not be able to do.
His engineers have done the math, which most of his detractors aren't even capable of doing.
 

pcgeekesq

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52 Space-X falcon heavy launches. 13 failures.
Really? And here I thought Falcon Heavy was one launch, one success.

Now, Falcon 9 had some early failures, just like early commercial aviation, because that's what happens when you push technology fast and hard. No reason the mature technology can't be just as safe as other forms of travel.
The last Falcon 9 failure was in September 2016, and the 24 Falcon 9 launches since then have all been successful.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Falcon_9_and_Falcon_Heavy_launches
 
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And yet the Wikipedia entry for the BFR uses that number. How do you know that it is wrong?
I didn't know they had already, OH WAIT THEY HAVEN'T. BFR is a drawing. I drew a dog with six legs once, never got one.

Where are you getting that number? It's provably wrong, because SpaceX is currently charging $62 million to lift 12,000 pounds to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) on a Falcon 9. That's $5,123 per pound. The Falcon 9 can lift 2.5 times as much to LEO, so I'd assume that the LEO $/pound is even less. Source: http://www.spacex.com/about/capabilities
NASA's own numbers of total cost per pound, Musk has admitted it hasn't changed much.

Even if we use your $5,123 that's $1,000,000 for one average sized man. SSTO spaceplanes will be doing this long before anyone is ambitious (crazy?) enough to eat the losses required to make rockets a way to move people around the world.

Coincidently, Elon is involved in the project that will make those planes work as well. He's one of those guys that if he really wants to make something happen he tries his ass off to make it happen. He's sort of a force of nature.
 

griffinhart

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Really? And here I thought Falcon Heavy was one launch, one success.

Now, Falcon 9 had some early failures, just like early commercial aviation, because that's what happens when you push technology fast and hard. No reason the mature technology can't be just as safe as other forms of travel.
The last Falcon 9 failure was in September 2016, and the 24 Falcon 9 launches since then have all been successful.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Falcon_9_and_Falcon_Heavy_launches
Sorry, correct. that was falcon 9 and heavy together. And while the heavy launches have been successful, the only attempted landing (according to your link) was not successful. Plus the rest of my numbers stand. I don't know anyone that would take a 1 in 20 chance of death in order to save a few hours.
 

pcgeekesq

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Sorry, correct. that was falcon 9 and heavy together. And while the heavy launches have been successful, the only attempted landing (according to your link) was not successful.
What are you talking about? They landed two out of the three Falcon Heavy first stages successfully, I imagine most of us saw the two that landed on land together. Pretty good for the first attempt.
 

pcgeekesq

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NASA's own numbers of total cost per pound, Musk has admitted it hasn't changed much.
SpaceX is way cheaper than NASA, no surprise, government bureuocracy in action.

Even if we use your $5,123 that's $1,000,000 for one average sized man.
That was $5200 per pound to GTO. You do understand that LEO is way cheaper to get to per pound that GTO, and suborbital even cheaper, right?
And that the entire point of SpaceX building the BFR is to lower the cost per pound substantially?

I've provided numbers and sources, including a current price for payloads, launching now, way below your $50K/pound claim, and to GTO to boot.
Where are your sources that prove them wrong? Where is your math that proves SpaceX's engineers are wrong?
 

griffinhart

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What are you talking about? They landed two out of the three Falcon Heavy first stages successfully, I imagine most of us saw the two that landed on land together. Pretty good for the first attempt.
We watched the Two booster engines land. but the Drone ship landing of the central core failed due to TEA-TEB chemical igniter running out, preventing two of its central core engines from restarting.

https://heavy.com/tech/2018/02/spacex-drone-ship-landing-video-photo-what-happened/

Having the central part of the rocket (where the passengers would be located) hit the water at 300 MPH is not a successful landing, by any stretch.
 

sfsuphysics

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Supposedly the cost will be...

Right, just like the hyperloop that should be cheaper than air, and you can bring your car.. whoops not anymore
 

pcgeekesq

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The central core failed due to TEA-TEB chemical igniter running out,
Having the central part of the rocket (where the passengers would be located) hit the water at 300 MPH is not a successful landing, by any stretch.
What are you talking about? There never were and never would be any passengers located in a Falcon Heavy first stage center core.
They ran it past a design capability, no surprise, the whole flight was just a test run after all, and Musk loves to push limits in test runs.

Elon Musk has not embraced the bureau-culture of never trying anything until you're sure you can do it. He's not afraid to fail a few times on the way to success. That's why he's out ahead of the pack.

If he starts offering suborbital flights to the other side of the world, I'll take one. I'd like to dive the Great Barrier Reef again, visit Kyoto and Nara again, and so on. And I'd like to fly through outer space, even for just a few minutes. Y'all can stay glued to your safe little chairs in front of your safe little screens if you want.
 

Dead Parrot

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For a long trip, the near zero drag and thus near zero fuel use at suborbital altitude could well mostly balance out the initial high fuel cost to get there. A conventional jet is fighting air drag for the entire trip. The longer the trip, the more fuel spent fighting drag. Could be there won't be much fuel cost difference between a BFR hop from Florida to Spain and Florida to Tahiti or for that matter, Florida to San Fransisco.
 

griffinhart

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What are you talking about? There never were and never would be any passengers located in a Falcon Heavy first stage center core.
They ran it past a design capability, no surprise, the whole flight was just a test run after all, and Musk loves to push limits in test runs.

Elon Musk has not embraced the bureau-culture of never trying anything until you're sure you can do it. He's not afraid to fail a few times on the way to success. That's why he's out ahead of the pack.

If he starts offering suborbital flights to the other side of the world, I'll take one. I'd like to dive the Great Barrier Reef again, visit Kyoto and Nara again, and so on. And I'd like to fly through outer space, even for just a few minutes. Y'all can stay glued to your safe little chairs in front of your safe little screens if you want.
It's not a matter of staying glued in your little chairs and we're not talking about risky adventures. I myself have dove on the GBR, Learned how to fly and done a lot of fun things. If someone wants to take a suborbital flight to experience it, that's one thing. But, NO ONE is going take a 1 in 20 gamble of never making it to their destination when traveling for work or vacation in order to save a few hours of travel time.
 

pcgeekesq

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It's not a matter of staying glued in your little chairs and we're not talking about risky adventures. I myself have dove on the GBR, Learned how to fly and done a lot of fun things. If someone wants to take a suborbital flight to experience it, that's one thing. But, NO ONE is going take a 1 in 20 gamble of never making it to their destination when traveling for work or vacation in order to save a few hours of travel time.
Your "one-and-twenty" number is something you just made up, and it has no real support. We won't know how reliable the BFR is until SpaceX flies it.
 

griffinhart

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Your "one-and-twenty" number is something you just made up, and it has no real support. We won't know how reliable the BFR is until SpaceX flies it.
World Wide in 2014 there were 92 rocket launches. 4 of them failed. In the service history of the Shuttle, 134 launches, 132 landings. Even SpaceX celebrated when they hit an 80% success rate. 1 in 20 is being generous.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2017_in_spaceflight in 2017: 91 launches. 83 successes.
 

nutzo

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Nonsense. Rocket fuel is cheap. Time, on the other hand, is money.
Cutting London-to-Sydney from the current 21 hours to an hour is easily worth the cost of the rocket fuel to do it -- 20 hours is over $5000 at a cheap attorney's billing rate.
Meanwhile, all us peasants will be stacked like cordwood in the economy class of airplanes, assuming we can even afford that.
 

clockdogg

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We watched the Two booster engines land. but the Drone ship landing of the central core failed due to TEA-TEB chemical igniter running out, preventing two of its central core engines from restarting.

https://heavy.com/tech/2018/02/spacex-drone-ship-landing-video-photo-what-happened/

Having the central part of the rocket (where the passengers would be located) hit the water at 300 MPH is not a successful landing, by any stretch.
Perhaps, but what a timesaver. And time is money. Even if money isn't time.
 
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