In February this year, Elon Musk and his team at SpaceX sent a Tesla Roadster and a ‘driver’ called Starman into space.
The car was launched into space as part of the maiden flight of the company’s Falcon Heavy rocket. Equal parts science experiment and a ‘hey check out what we can do’ show of capability, the stunt was, in Tesla’s book, a success – for the photos if nothing else.
While speculation around what SpaceX is up to is always frenzied, thanks to its eccentric CEO, anticipation has gone through the roof recently as last week, the company announced it had selected their first private passenger to be launched into space.
Earlier this year, Musk revealed he and his team were working on a huge new spacecraft, capable of reaching Mars in a six-month journey. The craft would be a 157-feet-tall spaceship on top of a 191-foot rocket, called the Big Falcon Rocket, or BFR (or Big F*cking Rocket, according to Musk).
Now, the company has revealed their private passenger will fly around the moon in the BFR.
As Business Insider reports, the BFR project is the beginning of SpaceX’s effort to colonise Mars. The passenger trip around the moon is merely a stepping stone to their ultimate goal.
Elon Musk described how he wants to launch an unmanned cargo mission to the red planet in 2022, with a manned mission to follow in 2024.
Marco Cáceres, a senior space analyst at the Teal Group said:
He wants to have two planets for humans to live on. Some people call it crazy, but it kind of makes some sense. If something were to happen to our planet, we have an option.
Back in December last year, a huge, 20,000 square-foot ‘storage tent’ appeared at the Port of Los Angeles, seemingly from SpaceX. Now, according to reports, the tent is being used to build a full scale prototype of the BFR.
When both components of the craft (the spaceship on top of the rocket) are assembled, they will be 35 stories tall – taller than the Statue of Liberty. When fully fuelled, it will weigh nearly nine million pounds, lift up to 150 tonnes of cargo and could support as many as 100 passengers.
SpaceX are also planning for the vessel to be 100 per cent reusable, something ‘we haven’t seen, ever’, according to Cáceres, who added ‘this would be the first entirely reusable launch vehicle.’
Steve Nutt, a materials scientist and aerospace engineer at the University of Southern California, said:
We’ve gone to the moon, but this is an order of magnitude at least more ambitious than that — probably a couple. It just sounds like science fiction.
Although SpaceX is keeping its cards close to its chest when it comes to details about the project, Musk has stated the first prototype should be completed in 2019. This means, if construction began when the tent appeared in December 2017, build time is roughly 18-24 months, compared with NASA’s smaller, single-use shuttles which take about five years.
It’s typical SpaceX and Elon Musk stuff. You don’t sit around. There’s a lot of pressure to do things quickly.
However, he always said if he succeeds, people should ‘appreciate what [Musk and SpaceX] had to overcome,’ adding ‘I wouldn’t recommend betting against Elon Musk’.
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.