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SpaceX building BFR at Port of Los Angeles

The main goal of the BFR is to support the colonization of the Red Planet. Image Credit: SpaceX

The main goal of the BFR is to support the colonization of the Red Planet. Image Credit: SpaceX

The location where SpaceX intends to build its newest and biggest rocket, code-named Big Falcon Rocket or BFR, has been revealed. On April 19, 2018, the Los Angeles board of harbor commissioners unanimously approved the Hawthorne, California-based company’s use of the Port of Los Angeles for building the super-heavy-lift vehicle.

“Officially announcing that @SpaceX will start production development of the Big Falcon Rocket in the @PortofLA!” tweeted Eric Garcetti, the Mayor of Los Angeles. “This vehicle holds the promise of taking humanity deeper into the cosmos than ever before.”

Due to the size of the vehicle, which is 30 feet (nine meters) wide, it will need to be transported to launch and test facilities by barge. In the case of transporting BFR stages to launch sites in Texas and Florida, they would likely need to travel through the Panama Canal to reach their destinations rather than over land via truck, as is the case with Falcon 9 stages.

The BFR docked with the International Space Station. Image Credit: SpaceX

The BFR docked with the International Space Station. Image Credit: SpaceX

The port is already home to SpaceX’s Pacific recovery operations. Both the drone ship “Just Read the Instructions” and the fairing recover ship “Mr. Steven” operate from the port as well as all the support vessels SpaceX uses for that coast, including vehicles used to recover Dragon cargo capsules after their International Space Station resupply missions are completed.

The company is expanding its Port of Los Angeles footprint, taking over a 19-acre site at the former Southwest Marine Shipyard.

The Port of Los Angeles sits 20 miles (32 kilometers) from downtown and occupies over 43 miles (69 kilometers) of waterfront. The port itself sits on 7,500 acres of land and processes over $272 billion of cargo every year. The land that SpaceX has chosen to use has sat empty for a number of years.

The BFR is expected to be a two-stage, fully-reusable launch system. SpaceX’s Elon Musk said during a presentation at the 68th International Astronautical Congress in September 2017 that the vehicle would be 348 feet (106 meters) tall and 30 feet (nine meters) wide. This was a scaled-down version of an earlier design that was unveiled the year before.

The first stage, the “booster,” would itself be 190 feet (58 meters) tall and be powered by 31 liquid methane/liquid oxygen-consuming Raptor engines that the company is currently developing. It’s overall liftoff thrust, Musk said, would be 11.8 million pounds (52,700 kilonewtons).

Simply called, the “spaceship,” the 157-foot (48-meter) long second stage would go all the way to orbit via seven Raptor engines. It’s total thrust would be 2.9 million pounds (12,700 kilonewtons). The spaceship, as its name implies, would double as a multi-purpose spacecraft. Both it and the booster are expected to be constructed using a carbon fiber material.

Musk said the spaceship, sometimes simply referred to as BFS or Big Falcon Spaceship, could be used for sending cargo and people to the Moon and Mars—with the help of on-orbit refueling—or send multiple large satellites into orbit. In total, the BFR system is expected to be able to deliver up to 330,000 pounds (150,000 kilograms) into a low-Earth orbit in a fully-reusable configuration.

Additionally, Musk said the BFR could be used for point-to-point transportation on Earth, claiming the vehicle could travel to anywhere on under 90 minutes via sub-orbital flights.

Recently on twitter, Musk showed off the first tooling equipment of the new BFR while touting his new Model 3 sedan from his other company Tesla. That along with recent testing of a carbon fiber cryogenic tank and ongoing Raptor engine testing, Musk said he believes the first test flights of the BFS could begin as soon as 2019, albeit via short hopes similar to SpaceX’s Grasshopper program when the company was first testing hardware and software that would ultimately be used to recover Falcon 9 first stages.

SpaceX's carbon fiber build tool for the BFR and BFS. Photo Credit: Elon Musk

SpaceX’s carbon fiber build tool for the BFR and BFS. Photo Credit: Elon Musk


BFR overview. Video courtesy of SpaceX



Joe Latrell is a life-long avid space enthusiast having created his own rocket company in Roswell, NM in addition to other consumer space endeavors. He continues to design, build and launch his own rockets and has a passion to see the next generation excited about the opportunities of space exploration. Joe lends his experiences from the corporate and small business arenas to organizations such as Teachers In Space, Inc. He is also actively engaged in his church investing his many skills to assist this and other non-profit endeavors.

Reader Comments

If you’re going to fly the thing from Florida, why the hell would you build a rocket that size so far away?!?!?! Is the labor really so bad in FL that you’d rather deal with all the CA red tape and having to ship the thing through the Panama Canal???

Its just to get things rolling I think. Boca Chica TX is where they might fly from soon once the new SpaceX launch facility is done. They did or are working on splash down in the gulf also. So since the engines are tested in TX that will be nice. Florida has the large launch infrastructure already in place. For given missions and launch trajectory I think there is actually benefits per mission requirements where launching from FL, CA or TX might be beneficial to still have those sites available.

Terry L Stetler

There wais a report by NSF that SpaceX, NASA and Space Florida are negotiating for a KSC BFR factory.

Clarissa MacDougall

Because Musk is in California and wants everything he oversees very close, especially such a risky development. Besides these are fully reusable systems designed to 1000 flights. The transport costs become trivial in that case.

OLD NEWS! This has been copied & pasted on just about every online tech news article the past few weeks/months now & it’s getting old fast. How bout some coverage on the construction of the actual factory or the BFR itself instead of constantly reporting the fact that BFR will be buolt at the port of L.A?

I thought it was 100, 1000 definitely makes more sense in terms of some very basic financial calculations. At 100 they would have to have the BFR built for under 60 million (assuming 100 passenger capacity and in respect to Earth/Earth flights with 6000 dollar ticket costs) which seems way too low. Mars is a different matter, at 500000 dollars per ticket and with 1000 flights per year (I think this was a stated goal) it would probably be quite lucrative even at 100 reuses, assuming there’s sufficient demand. That would be 5 billion per rocket lifetime (100 reuses) for something that is unlikely to cost more than 250 million to construct. 100 passengers per flight, 500k tickets and 1000 flights per year would be 50 billion but my guess is that if they ever get to 1000 flights, the rocket will already have been upgraded to accommodate 200 or more passengers.

There’s also the round trip length issue to Mars, so it’ll be in their best interest to make these rockets as large as possible. I think Elon Musk mentioned at some point that the total would be about 10 round trips per lifetime of the rocket which reduces the income to 500 million. That’s still likely considerably above the construction costs of the rocket but not massively so. It’s probably why he said the rockets need to be way bigger during the FH briefing. I would imagine a goal of 500 or more passengers per rocket for the second half of the century, maybe even during the late 30/early 40s.

Also, while 500k seems like a lot of money it would obviously open up tremendous opportunities. For instance, I would imagine universities around the world would be very interested in this as an example. They could create Mars funds and have students apply to these at the same time as they start their studies. The curriculum could then include all the training necessary within specific fields of study relevant to Mars exploration. That way, the graduates would be capable of solving potential issues that may present themselves and would in return provide valuable data to their sponsors. All of this still hinges on someone developing the necessary sustainability technologies for Mars. In my opinion, that’s something NASA should be focusing it’s resources on, instead of spending billions per year on old school rocket designs.

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