The Space Review has an interesting piece that attempts to figure out how much BFR might cost to fly. My own estimate: I dunno. Done the old fashioned way, you’d go through a thousand pages of calculations, totaling up all the palm-greasing and bonuses and regulatory hoop-jumping and congresscritter bribes and extraneous R&D and sub-sub-subcontractor troubleshooting… and only then try to figure out what the actual manufacturing and testing and propellant and operations and maintenance will cost. And then tack on an extra zero, because of course you will. But here, SpaceX is operating in a whole new environment. Ten years ago I would have said the BFR would have been a ridiculously, laughably optimistic concept; now… you know, I bet they can pull it off, even if they need to slip the schedule some.
They come up with a conclusion that $240,000 per ton delivered to the surface of Mars is achievable. They also come up with a cost per seat of $1,200 for a point-to-point ballistic transport version stuffing 853 passengers on board, but here I become distinctly dubious. I’d bet real money that even if the technology works fantastically, the regulatory banhammer will come down on SpaceX SpaceLines the moment they try to actually fly passengers. Heck, I bet the US FedGuv will drop ITAR on SpaceX like a ton of white-hot bricks the moment SpaceX seriously proposes to launch a BFR upper stage to some darned furrin country like Japan or Australia, never mind China or Dubai. Plus there will be practical issues which I think stand a *very* good chance of torpedoing an affordable ballistic transport system… passengers keeling over due to acceleration (or being ejected from the boarding line because a doctor says “no”), the sort of delays that space launch systems would find trivial would be monumental for a system meant to operate for only 30 minutes, difficulties getting passengers loaded on board, bad weather at the launch or landing site making it impossible for the vehicle or its booster to safely land… these can all cause a serious headache.
I am much less interested in the global transport aspect than I am in the orbital and interplanetary aspect. Sure, it’d be great to have a half-hour-to-antipodes transporter… but that wouldn’t have one percent the impact that a colony transport to Mars would have.