Why fly if you can rocket to any city in 60 min­utes

Khaleej Times - - FRONT PAGE -

Get­ting any­where on the planet in un­der an hour — one of the more in­trigu­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties that Elon Musk, the bil­lion­aire in­no­va­tor, raised as he un­veiled plans for a new rocket.

Musk said the ves­sel would both take off and land ver­ti­cally, like a space rocket. It would fly most routes — Dubai to Tokyo, for ex­am­ple — in about 30 min­utes, and longer dis­tances in an hour.

At a pre­sen­ta­tion in Aus­tralia, Musk showed off plans for the so-called BFR rocket, which would also be able to bring satel­lites into or­bit and crews to Mars.

Musk’s com­pany, SpaceX, has been able to make smaller rock­ets land ver­ti­cally, though the tech­ni­cal and com­mer­cial fea­si­bil­ity of this new venture is yet to be de­ter­mined.

If the con­cept be­comes re­al­ity, a jour­ney from New York to Shang­hai can be com­pleted in about 30 min­utes.

The sur­prise an­nounce­ment means that Musk’s Space Ex­plo­ration Tech­nolo­gies Corp., which has al­ready dis­rupted the aero­space in­dus­try with re­us­able launches, plans to ferry hu­mans not just to dis­tant plan­ets but across this one as well.

“If we are go­ing to places like Mars, why not Earth?” Musk said on Fri­day at the 68th In­ter­na­tional Astro­nau­ti­cal Congress in Ade­laide.

It’s 2017, we should have a lu­nar base by now. If we are go­ing to places like Mars, why not Earth? Elon Musk, the bil­lion­aire in­no­va­tor

An­i­ma­tion played on a big screen be­hind him, show­ing scores of peo­ple get­ting on a high-speed ferry in New York, then board­ing the BFR. The space­ship then headed for Shang­hai.

Musk said that SpaceX, which has launched 13 rock­ets so far this year, aims to com­plete 30 mis­sions for cus­tomers next year. SpaceX has many com­mer­cial satel­lite op­er­a­tors as cus­tomers, and the rev­enue from those con­tracts will help fund the devel­op­ment of BFR, which will also help set up a base on the Moon.

Musk, 46, has a net worth of more than $20 bil­lion and has said in the past he’d use his own per­sonal as­sets to help fund his vi­sion. He de­tailed his Mars plans in a talk at the IAC in Guadala­jara, Mex­ico, a year ago and later pub­lished a pa­per about it, gen­er­at­ing enor­mous ex­cite­ment but rais­ing con­cerns it in­cluded few de­tails on fi­nanc­ing. Musk promised his Twit­ter fol­low­ers this sum­mer his up­dated Mars plan would ad­dress the lack of pay­ment de­tails — which he called “the most fun­da­men­tal flaw” in his first take.

Red Dragon

Pre­vi­ously, Musk had talked about send­ing an un­manned “Red Dragon” space­craft to Mars in 2018. The new plan calls for the first BFR to land on Mars in 2022, fol­lowed by crewed mis­sions in 2024.

Musk, who’s also CEO of elec­tric-car maker Tesla Inc., founded SpaceX in 2002 with the ul­ti­mate goal of en­abling peo­ple to live on other plan­ets. The closely-held space ex­plo­ration com­pany flies its Fal­con 9 rocket for cus­tomers that in­clude Nasa, com­mer­cial satel­lite op­er­a­tors and the US mil­i­tary. The Hawthorne, Cal­i­for­nia-based com­pany also has plans to launch its own satel­lite net­work. The cost of a Fal­con 9 launch is roughly $62 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to SpaceX’s web­site, with mod­est dis­counts avail­able for con­trac­tu­ally com­mit­ted, multi-launch pur­chases. SpaceX’s rock­ets are de­signed for re­use, with rocket reusabil­ity now seen as key to mak­ing space travel af­ford­able. SpaceX cel­e­brated its first launch us­ing a pre­vi­ously flown booster in March.

On top of the 13 launches in 2017, SpaceX has sev­eral more mis­sions on its man­i­fest for the re­main­der of the year. The com­pany ex­pects to demon­strate later this year the first test flight of Fal­con Heavy, a far more pow­er­ful rocket ca­pa­ble of heavy pay­loads and send­ing pay­ing space tourists on a flight around the moon.

Mars Goals

Mars is no longer the stuff of sci­ence fic­tion. Mars ex­plo­ration got an enor­mous boost in Au­gust 2012, when Nasa’s Cu­rios­ity Rover landed on the red planet. The ro­botic ve­hi­cle con­tin­ues to trans­mit breath­tak­ing, high-res­o­lu­tion pho­to­graphs of the dune-and but­te­filled land­scape to the de­light of sci­en­tists and Cu­rios­ity’s 3.8 mil­lion Twit­ter fol­low­ers.

Still, hu­man coloni­sa­tion of Mars won’t be easy. Get­ting to the Red Planet will take sev­eral months, with un­known risks to the hu­man body and psy­che. Even if space ex­plor­ers sur­vive the 155 mil­lion­mile jour­ney and sub­se­quent firstever manned land­ing, they would need to get to work im­me­di­ately to cre­ate a hab­it­able at­mos­phere and pro­duce the fuel needed to pro­pel the rocket ship home­ward.

Musk has a busy agenda while in Aus­tralia. Later on Fri­day, he was to at­tend a Tesla En­ergy event at a wind farm. Tesla’s sell­ing its bat­ter­ies to util­i­ties ea­ger to find ways to in­te­grate re­new­ables like so­lar and wind with their elec­tric grids. — Bloomberg


Bil­lion­aire en­tre­pre­neur and founder of SpaceX Elon Musk speaks be­low a com­puter-gen­er­ated il­lus­tra­tion of his new rocket in Ade­laide on Fri­day. —

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