Billionaire Elon Musk and Spacex announced that they were devoting all of Spacex resources to the development of a large fully reusable rocket called the Spacex BFR (Big F**ing Rocket). It will have a payload capacity of 150 tons. It will use the Raptor engines which already have had many test firings since 2016.
Development work began on the Raptor rocket engines to be used for both stages of the BFR launch vehicle in 2012, and engine testing began in 2016. New rocket engine designs are typically considered one of the longest of the development subprocesses for new launch vehicles and spacecraft. Tooling for the main tanks has been ordered and a facility to build the vehicles is under construction; construction will start on the first ship in 2Q2018. The company publicly stated an aspirational goal for initial Mars-bound cargo flights of BFR launching as early as 2022, followed by the first BFR flight with passengers one synodic period later, in 2024
Some in the comments believe that is a long way from getting built, because of development delays with the Falcon Heavy.
In 2008, SpaceX was aiming for the first launch of Falcon 9 in 2009, and “Falcon 9 Heavy would be in a couple of years.” Speaking at the 2008 Mars Society Conference, Elon Musk also said that a hydrogen-fueled upper stage would follow 2–3 years later (notionally 2013). The Falcon Heavy is being developed with private capital.
In 2011, Elon Musk stated that Falcon Heavy would “carry more payload to orbit or escape velocity than any vehicle in history, apart from the Saturn V Moon rocket […] and Soviet Energia rocket.” In 2015, SpaceX announced a number of changes to the Falcon Heavy rocket, worked in parallel to the upgrade of the Falcon 9 v1.1 launch vehicle. In 2011, with the expected increase in demand for both variants, SpaceX announced plans to expand manufacturing capacity “as we build towards the capability of producing a Falcon 9 first stage or Falcon Heavy side booster every week and an upper stage every two weeks. It appears that in 2018, Spacex will be at or very near the capability of having this production level.
By May 2017, SpaceX did the first static fire test of flight-design Falcon Heavy center core at the McGregor facility. By September 2017, all three first stage cores had completed static fire testing on the ground test stand. In July 2017, Musk discussed publicly the challenges of testing a complex launch vehicle like the three-core Falcon Heavy. There is a large extent of the new design “that is really impossible to test on the ground” and cannot really be tested until flight tests begin.
The Falcon Heavy is scheduled for a test flight in a couple of months.
So four to six years late on huge goals. This is still not bad. It will be enough to get over half of all commercial space launches.
The initial reusability of first stages that Spacex is already demonstrating will reduce the costs of the Falcon 9 by about 30% and by the Falcon Heavy by nearly 50%.
A six year delay would put the Spacex BFR having commercial flights in about 2026.
The development cost will still be far less than the $30-50 billion of the next generation B21 stealth bomber and earlier than its targeted 2027-2032 flying times. It would also be ahead of the time for hypersonic drones or planes.
The Falcon Heavy alone will achieve $1000 per pound launch costs.
A reusable Falcon Heavy will get to about $500 per pound launch costs.
The fully reusable Spacex BFR will get to about $20 to 200 per pound launch costs. Spacex is targeting $20 per pound.
What it will take to develop the next generation B21 stealth bomber
The US Air Force plans are to acquire a minimum of 80–100 LRS-B aircraft at a cost of $550 million per unit (2010) and envisions some 175 to 200 to be in service eventually. A development contract was awarded to Northrop Grumman in October 2015. A media report states that the bomber could also be used as an intelligence gatherer, battle manager, and interceptor aircraft.
There are no specifications yet as the B21 will probably not fly until 2030. Although there was talk of mid-2020 and late 2020s initial operational capability.
A fleet of 100 B21 stealth bombers would have 2000 to 2500 tons of bomb capacity if they had similar to B2 bomb capacity.
Between 2004 and 2009 $1.4 billion was spent on the next generation bomber. About $4 billion was spent from 2010 to 2017.
In FY2018, $2 billion will be spent. Annual spending will rise to about $4 billion per year. It will be another $30-50+ billion for development before the procurement of each plane at a hoped for $550 million a piece.
Hypersonic missiles, drones and planes
Hypersonic drones and planes will depend upon the development of new engines. Aerojet Rocketdyne is developing turbine-based combined cycle engine. It is a three in one engine that will operate at low speed all the way through hypersonic speed.
The hypersonic missiles are far simpler and are using rockets to boost to about mach 3-4 and then having a hypersonic Mach 4+ engine start and provide extra range and movement.
Spacex Launch capability as a side project can be used to give hypersonic weapons that can hit anywhere on Earth in minutes
Kinetic orbital strike (rods from god) is the hypothetical act of attacking a planetary surface with an inert projectile, where the destructive force comes from the kinetic energy of the projectile impacting at very high velocities. Then dropping several ton metal rods just allows has gravity to accelerate them to mach 10. They would have some directional control with some control fins and technology similar to JDAM bombs. This has far less development risk and complexity than developing hypersonic technology in the current projects.
All Spacex systems or any space launch system has to do is carry the metal rods and their orbital platforms and place them into position. Spacex Falcon Heavy (53 tons to orbit) and Spacex BFR (150 tons to orbit) make it easier to put whole pieces of the Rods from God system into space.
Small rods or missiles that release a cluster of metal balls can be used to take down enemy missiles like ICBMs (particularly in the boost phase) and they can be used to fire downwards at any missile targeting the Rods from Gods platforms.
The Spacex BFR can also make trips to the moon for fuel or other material supplies.
20 Falcon Heavy launches per year could put up about 1000 tons. Those would cost about $1 to 2 billion. If each rod was 10 tons and half of the weight was rods and the other half platform, then it would be 50 shots.
100 Falcon BFR launches per year could cost (assuming the price targets and reusability are achieved) $700 million to $4 billion and would put 15000 tons into space each year. If each rod was 10 tons and half of the weight was rods and the other half platform, then it would be 750 shots.
This would be more attack capabilities sooner and cheaper than the B21 and hypersonic weapons programs. I think it would be lower development risk. It would also have the multiple use benefits of generating a massive space economy. It is actually far more important for the massive space economy.
Nextbigfuture will discuss developing the orbital space industry and the moon (including the lunar cave that can hold over 100,000 people) in following articles.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.