"To any point on Earth - in less than an hour," promises Musk.
Today, SpaceX CEO Ilon Mask presented updated plans for flights to the Moon and Mars at a conference on the space industry, but he ended his conversation with a rather incredible proposal: to use the same interplanetary transport system for long journeys on Earth. Musk showed a demonstration of this idea on the stage, arguing that it would allow passengers to make "the longest trips" in just 30 minutes and go "anywhere on Earth in less than an hour" at the price of a ticket.
Musk suggested using the future SpaceX mega-rocket (codenamed “Big F * cking Rocket” or BFR for short) to lift a huge spacecraft into orbit around the Earth. Then this ship will descend to floating landing sites near major cities. And the new rocket and spacecraft are now theoretical, although Musk said he was going to start building them in the next six to nine months.
In the SpaceX video, which illustrates this idea, passengers sail on a large ferry boat from the New York pier and go to the floating launch platform. There they sit on the same rocket that Musk wants to use to send humans to Mars by 2024. But instead of going to another planet after they leave the atmosphere of the Earth, the ship separates from the first step and heads towards the other city of the Earth - Shanghai.
After 39 minutes of flight, having overcome about 7,000 miles, the ship returns to the atmosphere and touches another floating platform, similar to the one onto which SpaceX is landing its Falcon 9 missiles at sea. Other routes suggested in the video offer Hong Kong to Singapore in 22 minutes, London to Dubai or New York in 29 minutes, and Los Angeles to Toronto in 24 minutes, etc.
The proposed method of traveling from one city to another would certainly be the fastest ever created by mankind. According to Mask, the ship will reach a speed of about 18,000 miles per hour, which is more than an order of magnitude faster than the Concorde.
Mask presented this idea at the very end of his speech, so he did not go into details about other logistics related to this proposal. (In fact, most of Mask’s speeches were how he wanted to use this new rocket system to make all current and upcoming Falcon rockets obsolete.) Using the numbers he showed earlier in conversation when he described the power of the spacecraft for the Moon and Mars, we can estimate that he will be able to transport from 80 to 200 people per trip. But we do not have any additional basic information, for example, what share of the airline market Musk claims, how it will be regulated, or even the timing - when SpaceX can try to create it.
We also do not know what a passenger will experience in flight, and this is an important factor in a similar idea. The idea of flying on a rocket across the expanses of space is exciting, as is the opportunity to add moments of weightlessness to your trip to London or wherever you go. But will people really want to subject their bodies to such extreme loads for the sake of reducing their journey by several hours?
And then, there is still landing. Despite the occasional hitch, landing on airplanes is a huge success. Yes, so far SpaceX copes with the landing of its Falcon 9 missiles both on land and at sea, and Musk even began his speech, advertising how 16 of them landed successfully in a row. But the difference between landing a 14-story rocket without passengers and a huge ship full of people is what Musk, we hope, will present during another presentation or the next time he opens his Twitter.
(c) Sean O'Kane September 29, 2017, 1:47 AM EDT