Before the 68th International Aeronautical Congress early this morning, Elon Musk delivered some bold predictions for his aeronautics company SpaceX: a massive new rocket that could put a satellite ten times the size of Hubble into space, a base on the moon, and two manned missions to Mars by 2024 to find a water source and build a rocket refuelling depot. He capped off his presentation with a curveball—using rockets to take passengers on Earth to elsewhere on Earth.
Using SpaceX’s upcoming, unnamed, and very big rocket (fittingly code named the “Big Fucking Rocket”), Musk estimates a journey from anywhere to anywhere else on the only planet currently hosting human life would take under an hour. For contrast, current flight time for London to Sydney is around 22 hours.
How does it work? It doesn’t exist yet, but Musk showed a rendered video depicting silhouettes boarding a ship (the regular, sea-faring kind) which takes them a little way out into a body of water where the future people disembark to a waiting SpaceX launch platform. The people-missile zips into a low earth orbit at 18,000 miles per hour, the booster rocket does an about-face at the apex, and the nose section sets down in Shanghai. Huh.
The major distinction between SpaceX and its competitors is cost. Musk knows how to launch a rocket economically, but we’re still describing the act of sending a ship through Earth’s atmosphere for tens of millions per launch. Granted the BFR doesn’t exist yet, but the company’s own, likely conservative estimates for the Falcon Heavy place a flight at £67 million. How could this ever be made affordable? Maybe the buried lead is that SpaceX will also bring about the post-scarcity Star Trek economy.
Yes, there’s an irony that “build a base on the moon” feels more plausible than “also, go between major transportation hubs, only a lot faster.” We’ve reached out to Musk for details on what we can only imagine is a tentative plan.