At the 68th International Astronautical Congress, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk elaborated on his updated plans for a Mars settlement. Musk presented an updated vehicle design – the Big Falcon Rocket (a.k.a. the BFR) – which is set to replace the current Falcon 9 rocket.
Why replace the Falcon?
To a lot of people, it may seem like an absurd design, considering the fact that most launches don’t need a huge payload capacity. The reason musk revamped the current design is the high cost involved with launching it.
Falcon 9 is only partially reusable. The booster, which is the first stage of the rocket can be landed and reused but the fairing and upper stage are not reusable. What this means is that 25% of the overall cost of the rocket cannot be reclaimed.
On the other hand, BFR will be designed to be fully reusable. The cost associated with initial production would be significantly higher than that of Falcon 9. However later, the cost price per launch for BFR would be cheaper.
Also, BFR uses methane fuel rather than the refined kerosene used in Falcon, which is much more costly.
BFRs Entry to Mars
According to the SpaceX official website,
“BFR will enter the Mars atmosphere at 7.5 kilometers per second and decelerate aerodynamically. The vehicle’s heat shield is designed to withstand multiple entries, but given that the vehicle is coming into the Mars atmosphere so hot, we still expect to see some ablation of the heat shield (similar to wear and tear on a brake pad).”
Impact on the space industry
The decrease in cost of launch with the use of BFR certainly opens up spots for new outgrowths and also end of few of the current industry players. The way space industry operates will change with the inclusion of the BFR.
With the reduced launch cost the overall cost associated with the satellite will be lowered. This money can be used for making more number of rockets.
Also, current satellites need highly sophisticated engineering as a lot of complex machinery is involved in the project. With BFR, a much larger design can be accommodated with less complex engineering and there is less trouble of integrating modules to work together.
Space mining will benefit with the cheaper launches as it will have more access to the relatively expensive elements which aren’t easily available on earth but, which can be found in abundance on various asteroids in outer space. Obtaining platinum would open new technology opportunities. The prime reason why hydrogen fuel cells cars aren’t in use today, despite the technology having been around for decades, is because they require expensive platinum. Production of fuel cells would be economically feasible with a plentiful supply of platinum. This is just one of the many possibilities that will be opened up.
BFR – Earth to Earth transportation
Lastly, BFR opens up the possibility to reduce long-distance travel by branching out of the current space-related goals towards high-speed travel on earth. With BFR, one can travel to places like London to Hong Kong in less than half an hour. Compare that to eleven hours it takes us to reach via an airplane. It’s a colossal reduction in time wasted during travel.
The BFR looks like a significant step forward in the direction of cheaper and more efficient space travel and exploration. With successful realization of projects such as this one, we can expect to expand human presence in space in a not-so-far-off time.