Spaceflight Insider

Elon Musk says 1st flight of SpaceX’s Mars spaceship may happen in 2019

Elon Musk, right, answers audience questions during a surprise Q&A session at the 2018 South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. During the session, he said the first flight of the BFR could happen as early as 2019. Photo Credit: Ryan Chylinski / SpaceFlight Insider

Elon Musk, right, answers audience questions during a surprise Q&A session at the 2018 South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. During the session, he said the first flight of the BFR could happen as early as 2019. Photo Credit: Ryan Chylinski / SpaceFlight Insider

While at South by Southwest, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said he believes the first test flights of SpaceX’s “Big Falcon Rocket” (BFR) spaceship could happen in the first half of 2019, although he admits to having optimistic timelines.

The comment came during a surprise March 11, 2018, question and answer session at the annual technology and culture festival in Austin, Texas, and less than 24 hours after Musk made another surprise appearance the night before during a panel with the co-creators of the HBO series Westworld, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy. Just like the panel, the Q&A session was run by Nolan, who is a friend of Musk.

The ultimate purpose of the BFR would be to help colonize Mars. Image Credit: SpaceX

The ultimate purpose of the BFR would be to help colonize Mars. Image Credit: SpaceX

The first topic discussed was SpaceX’s ambitions to send humans to Mars and its progress on the BFR, which was unveiled by Musk in September 2016 and further refined in September 2017. The architecture, which will be able to send more cargo to low-Earth orbit than even NASA’s Saturn V Moon rocket and be fully and rapidly reusable, consists of a 190-foot (58-meter) tall booster for its first stage, and a 157-foot (48-meter) tall spaceship that doubles as a second stage. Musk said the Hawthorne, California-based company was “making good progress” on the spaceship portion.

“We are building the first ship,” Musk said. “I think we’ll be able to do short flights, short sort of up and down flights, probably sometime in the first half of next year.”

Musk said that people have told him that his projected timelines have historically been optimistic. As such, he said he is trying to “re-calibrate to some degree,” although it is unclear if the 2019 time frame for the first spaceship tests have been included in his new calibrations. In September 2017, the SpaceX founder said he expected the first full test flight of the BFR rocket and spaceship on a trip to Mars could happen as early as 2022.

Regardless of when the BFR flies, Musk said once SpaceX builds the vehicle, it would be a “point of proof” that other companies and countries could follow.

“They currently don’t think it is possible,” Musk said. “So if we show them that it is, then I think they will up their game and they will build interplanetary transport vehicles as well.”

Musk said that once the BFR and similar ships are built, there will be an economical means of getting cargo and people to and from the Moon as well as Mars and other destinations in the Solar System. He said that is where a tremendous amount of entrepreneurial resources will be needed in order to build out entire industrial bases and everything that allows modern civilization to exist.

“We’ll start off building the most elementary of infrastructure: just a base to create propellant, a power station, glass domes in which to grow crops, all of the sort of fundamentals without which you would not survive,” Musk said of SpaceX’s near-term Mars goals. “Then there’s going to be an explosion of entrepreneurial opportunity, because Mars will need everything from iron foundries to pizza joints.”

In order to do this, the cost of spaceflight will have to be reduced by many orders of magnitude, Musk said, and he hopes the BFR will be able to do that by being fully and rapidly reusable. SpaceX’s current Falcon family of rockets are already partially reusable with first stages regularly returning to Earth via propulsive landing after missions. Soon, the company expects to begin regularly recovering the protective payload fairing as well. Only the vehicles’ second stage is not currently recoverable.

Because the BFR will be fully reusable, the cost per flight really only comes down to the fuel, the ground teams required to launch it, and any refurbishment required between flights.

“A BFR flight will actually cost less than our Falcon 1 flight did,” Musk said. “That was a $5 million or $6 million dollar marginal cost per flight. We’re confident the BFR will be less than that. That’s profound, and that is what will enable the creation of a permanent base on the Moon and a city on Mars.”

Video courtesy of SpaceX

 

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Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a blog about the International Space Station, called Orbital Velocity. He met with members of the SpaceFlight Insider team during the flight of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 551 rocket with the MUOS-4 satellite. Richardson joined our team shortly thereafter. His passion for space ignited when he watched Space Shuttle Discovery launch into space Oct. 29, 1998. Today, this fervor has accelerated toward orbit and shows no signs of slowing down. After dabbling in math and engineering courses in college, he soon realized his true calling was communicating to others about space. Since joining SpaceFlight Insider in 2015, Richardson has worked to increase the quality of our content, eventually becoming our managing editor. @TheSpaceWriter

Reader Comments

Seems no one’s laughing now. 🙂
Cheers

Fingers crossed that everything goes as planned, with BFR in general but also with Dragon 2 and CCP since I’d imagine that any serious issues there could slow down BFR development.

Agreed. IIRC there seemed a likely holdup with CCP on the NASA side getting through the reviews and approvals not so much any technical issues or hardware. Seemed like there were a lot of SLS ones at the same time.
Also believe that NASA was going to allow crew on test flights as well to accelerate final approval. Not sure which ones and may be wrong on that.
Cheers

Clarissa MacDougall

Even if the powers that be, within NASA, delay CCP for whatever reason they can muster up, the heavy engineering work should be completed by end of year. This will free up resources for BFR/BFS.

Wow, this would mean that SpaceX has three different launch systems in their inventory come the 2020s. Yet we are being told that a decades-long approach of incremental development and methodical upgrades are the only way to explore the solar system… dear Good/Allah/Jehovah etc. I am, of course, alluding to whatever comes after ISS and its method of delivery.
The orthodxy, largely under the stewardship of NASA, really will get us nowhere anytime soon. It really is time to let new ideas blossom before some sort of global calamity traps us on Earth, as Elon Musk and others like Professor Stephen Hawking are warning.

TOO BAD WE DON’T HAVE PEOPLE WITH VISIONS IN GOVERNMENT.
IF WE DID THEN MABY NASA WOULD BE MORE PROGRESSIVE THAN IT IS. SO SAD!!
WE NEED MORE PEOPLE LIKE ELON MUSK.

I hope they can get BFR going soon. They could use it to service the ISS and shore it up if they decide to maintain it after they mush for Luna and beyond.

Terry L Stetler

Doubling down, Shotwell repeated Spaceship hops in2019, and added a BFR orbital flight in 2020.

Jeezzzz….

It was my understand SpaceX is building the Big Falcon Ship before the Big Falcon Rocket 1st stage?

BFS and then BFR?

Yes,mine as well. BFS will likely be the hard part. They know how to build a launch vehicle.
Cheers

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