SpaceX will make a massive network of literally thousands of low earth orbit satellites to provide high-bandwidth, low-cost internet connection to every square foot of planet earth. (This is at 9:38 to 10:37 in the TED talk video)
Gwynne Shotwell: We actually don’t chat very much about this particular project, not because we’re hiding anything, but this is probably one of the most challenging if not the most challenging project we’ve undertaken. No one has been successful deploying a huge constellation for internet broadband, or basically for satellite internet, and I don’t think physics is the difficulty here. I think we can come up with the right technology solution, but we need to make a business out of it, and it’ll cost the company about 10 billion dollars or more to deploy this system. And so we’re marching steadily along but we’re certainly not claiming victory yet.
There’s no question it’ll change the world.
BFR can take the satellites that we’re currently taking to orbit to many orbits. It allows for even a new class of satellites to be delivered to orbit. Basically, the width, the diameter of the fairing is eight meters, so you can think about what giant telescopes you can put in that fairing, in that cargo bay, and see really incredible things and discover incredible things in space. But then there are some residual capabilities that we have out of BFR as well.
space travel for earthlings. I can’t wait for this residual capability. Basically, what we’re going to do is we’re going to fly BFR like an aircraft and do point-to-point travel on earth, so you can take off from New York City or Vancouver and fly halfway across the globe. You’ll be on the BFR for roughly half an hour or 40 minutes, and the longest part — yeah, it’s so awesome.
The longest part of that flight is actually the boat out and back.
The first BFR is going to have roughly a hundred passengers. And let’s talk a little bit about the business. Everyone thinks rockets are really expensive, and to a large degree they are, and how could we possibly compete with airline tickets here? But if you think about it, if I can do this trip in half an hour to an hour, I can do dozens of these a day, right? And yet, a long-haul aircraft can only make one of those flights a day. So even if my rocket was slightly more expensive and the fuel is a little bit more expensive, I can run 10x at least what they’re running in a day, and really make the revenue that I need to out of that system.
So within 10 years, an economy price ticket, or, like, a couple thousand dollars per person to fly New York to Shanghai.
But basically, you’re going to lift off from a pad, you’ve got a booster as well as the BFS, the Big Falcon Spaceship. It’s going to take off. The booster is going to drop the spaceship off in orbit, low earth orbit, and then return just like we’re returning boosters right now. So it sounds incredible, but we’re working on the pieces, and you can see us achieve these pieces. So booster comes back. The new thing here is that we’re going to actually land on the pad that we launched from. Currently, we land on a separate pad, or we land out on a boat. Fast, quick connect. You take a cargo ship full of fuel, or a fuel depot, put it on that booster, get that in orbit, do a docking maneuver, refuel the spaceship, and head on to your destination, and this one is Mars.
CA: So, like, a hundred people go to Mars at one time, taking, what, six months? Two months?
GS: It ends up depending on how big the rocket is. I think this first version, and we’ll continue to make even bigger BFRs, I think it’s a three-month trip. Right now, the average is six to eight, but we’re going to try to do it faster.
CA: When do you believe SpaceX will land the first human on Mars?
GS: It’s a very similar time frame from the point-to-point. It’s the same capability. It will be within a decade — not this decade.
[SpaceX] got to construct the vehicle design[s] from, really, a clean sheet of paper, and we got to make decisions that we wanted to make. The tank architecture — it’s a common dome design. Basically it’s like two beer cans stacked together, one full of liquid oxygen, one full of RP, and that basically saved weight. It allowed us to basically take more payload for the same design. One of the other elements of the vehicle that we’re flying right now is we do use densified liquid oxygen and densified RP, so it’s ultracold, and it allows you to pack more propellent into the vehicle. It is done elsewhere, probably not to the degree that we do it, but it adds a lot of margin to the vehicle, which obviously adds reliability.
The launch escape system for the SpaceX Dragon is pretty unique. It’s an integrated launch escape system. It’s basically a pusher, so the propellant system and the thrusters are integrated into the capsule, and so if it detects a rocket problem, it pushes the capsule away. Capsule safety systems in the past have been like tractor pullers, and the reason we didn’t want to do that is that puller needs to come off before you can safely reenter that capsule, so we wanted to eliminate, in design, that possibility of failure.