At the Space X event earlier this week, not only did Elon Musk announce the name of Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa as the company’s first private passenger to have booked a trip to the Moon, he also revealed the updated design and various other details of the company’s under-production BFR, short for Big Falcon Rocket – or “Big F*ing Rocket,” as Musk likes to call it.
Sitting atop the humongous booster will be a massive spaceship, dubbed BFS (Big Falcon Spaceship), with Maezawa inside it when the moon-bound rocket blasts off into space sometime in 2020.
Accompanying Maezawa will be a merry band of six to eight artists from around the word that the Japanese tycoon wishes to invite to the party around the Moon, but that shouldn’t be a problem as the massive BFS is capable of carrying a payload of up to 100 passengers.
Effectively, that leaves the door open for the fashion magnate, a known connoisseur of art, to invite even more artists – as long as he’s willing to foot the bill, which, of course, he’s quite capable of, many times over.
The BFR and BFS together will stand 387 feet tall – almost as tall as a 40-story building – which is about the same size as the Saturn V rocket used by NASA for its Moon mission.
Powered by 31 main Raptor engines that are propelled by liquid oxygen and methane, the BFR will be able to generate 5,400 tons of thrust; good enough to go all the way to the Solar System, says Musk.
“If you have propellant depot on Mars, you’ll be able to get from Mars to the asteroid belt to the moons of Jupiter and kind of like a planet moon-hop all the way to the outer Solar System,” he said.
“BFR is intended as an interplanetary transport system capable of getting from Earth to anywhere in the Solar System.”
Both units, launch vehicle as well as spaceship, are equipped with their own set of Raptor engines, giving them the capability for powered touchdowns, be it on Earth or elsewhere in the Solar System – or, perhaps, even beyond.
Details of the BFR was first made public back in 2016 at the 67th International Astronautical Congress (IAC), held in Guadalajara, Mexico, although Space X had been working on it for several years and used the nomenclature Mars Colonial Transporter (MCT) to refer to it.
Musk presented the Big Falcon Rocket as a vehicle meant exclusively for interplanetary travel; part of his vision of an Interplanetary Transport System (ITS).
At the next IAC event in Adelaide the following year, Musk presented an updated design version of the BFR, which had been scaled down to have a core diameter of 30 feet, instead of 89, and was now being looked at as an all-embracing multipurpose vehicle – not one that’s dedicated to just planet hopping.
And now, in 2018, we have yet another update on the BFR, and a big one at that – the announcement coming at a Space X event and not at the IAC.
“The production design of BFR is different in some important ways from what I presented about a year ago,” Musk said.
According to the updated design, the BFR will be about 387 feet tall, as mentioned earlier, almost half of which is accounted for by the spaceship (BFS).
“I mean, this is a ridiculously big rocket,” Musk said, pointing out to a life-size illustration on the wall to give the audience a sense of size, relative to the other rockets and the crowd in the picture.
However, most of the updates and changes involve the BFS, rather than its launch vehicle.
The revised design iteration of the BFS includes seven large Raptor engines, instead of four large and two smaller engines that the previous design version called for.
Explaining the new design’s engine-size uniformity and the increase in the number of engines and their changed arrangement, Musk said that it was an attempt to bring engine parity between the BFR and the BFS so that “development risk and costs” could be brought down.
“In order to minimize the development risk and costs, we decided to harmonize the engine between the booster and the ship,” he said.
“Having the engines in that configuration, with seven engines, means it’s definitely capable of engine out at any time, including two engine out in almost all circumstances,” he said.
“In fact in some cases you could lose up to four engines and still be fine. It only needs three engines for landing.”
According to the new update, the spaceship will now have three fins at the bottom – one more than what the previous iteration suggested.
In addition to helping the BFS with maneuverability and stability in flight, the fins on the bottom will also serve as landing legs, a big deviation from the pop-out landing pads shown in the earlier designs.
It must be mentioned, though, that the third fin does not have any aerodynamic purpose; it’s there to complete the set of three landing pads and has been designed as a replica of the other two fins to maintain symmetry, says Musk.
“It doesn’t have any aerodynamic purpose — it really is just a leg,” he said, explaining that “it looks the same as the other ones for purposes of symmetry.”
The new version of the design also provides for additional cargo space on the bottom of the launch vehicle, spacious enough to hold a couple of buses’ worth of payload.
The new iteration’s uncanny resemblance to the spaceship seen in the Tintin classic comic “Explorers on the Moon,” is by design and not a case of serendipity.
“I love the Tintin rocket design, so I kind of wanted to bias it toward that. So now we have the three large legs, with two of them actuating as body flaps or large moving wings.”
“I think this design is probably on par with the other one. It might be better. Yeah, if in doubt, go with Tintin,” he quipped.