Oct 112017

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.

Estimating the cost of BFR

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.

 Posted by at 11:54 pm
  • Michel Van

    very wise view on Matter
    can i quote this text at Secretprojectforum on BFR ?

    about US FedGuv ITAR
    i notice that BFR is launch from Platform on sea
    Would be not surprised it SpaceX move the Platforms into International waters
    then can US FedGuv wipe there ass with ITAR regulations…
    …and other over regulating Guv also can use there regulation als toilet paper !

    • Scottlowther

      > can i quote this text at Secretprojectforum on BFR ?


      > then can US FedGuv wipe there ass with ITAR regulations..

      Yeah… not gonna be that easy. While it might be possible to do that with a few destinations, a lot of other places an international-waters landing/launch site simply wouldn’t be possible. Where can you land when shooting people to Paris or Berlin or Moscow other than well within France or Germany or Russia?

      And I suspect the regulators would *still* get ITAR-itchy if SpaceX started building a platform just off shore of Hong Kong.

      • Herp McDerp

        And I suspect the regulators would *still* get ITAR-itchy if SpaceX started building a platform just off shore of Hong Kong.

        To steal a scene from The Graduate:

        Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.

        Benjamin: Yes, sir.

        Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?

        Benjamin: Yes, I am.

        Mr. McGuire: Bribery.

  • James Cambias

    I was doing some musing about this on my own ‘blog: the BFR’s cost-per-pound to orbit is about the same as a FedEx second-day parcel from the USA to Asia.

    • Scottlowther

      *If* SpaceX can develop BFR for the sort of cost they expect (and not for NASA-cost) and *if* they can fly them many times, and *if* they can avoid NASA-like operational costs, then they begin to approach a cost where the cost of propellant is actually important. And that would be extraordinary.

  • Bob

    The whole thing is ridiculous, makes no economic sense and will never happen.

    • sferrin

      Thanks for the expert opinion Mr. von Braun.

      • Bob

        You are, of course, welcome.

  • imhoFRED

    > that wouldn’t have one percent the impact that a colony transport to Mars would have.

    I love the idea of going to Mars (or the Moon, or orbit). That’s where my passion is.

    But, actually, if you made an antipode transportation system, you’d have a multi billion dollar business that millions of people would be genuinely standing in line to use. Today. No Sci Fi needed.

    • Scottlowther

      If you want to go to the other side of the planet, you can do that now.With sufficient funds, available to most modestly employed people, you can be there in a couple days.

      You want to go to the moon or Mars, you’re currently shit outta luck.

      If the BFR comes about in all its aspects, it would make a slight improvement in terrestrial transport… but it would create an entirely new capability in space transport.

      • Paul451

        The key with BFR’s point to point is that it’s exactly the same technology as their orbital flights. Indeed, long range p2p flights will spend most of their flight-time in near-orbit. It means that millions of people will be exposed to the idea of “going to space” as a normal activity. Whether you end your trip in London or at an orbital hotel becomes, conceptually, the same thing, with visiting the moon more like a week cruise. It will fundamentally change the way people think about “space”.

        “Oh you’ve been to the moon? The wife and I went for our last anniversary. What hotel did you stay at? … Is something wrong with your hands, Mr. Aldrin?”

  • Kopis

    Okay acronym jockeys, the primary objective of communication is to make something clearer. The huge majority of 3, or so, letter acronyms are very geek specific. They aid in short-hand speak to those on project development deadlines. In other words, there is no *urgent need* for short-hand speak here or in many, many, many other places.

    Define, spell out, what an acronym means the first time, or first few times, it’s used. The more formal term is *common courtesy.* BFR – Big F**k’n ‘Roid??? ITAR??? Never heard of it, since it’s from the government, most likely don’t want to know or care. If you’re not causing prove-able harm to anyone, there are simple ways around it.

    Simple counter to authoritarian bureaucrats: have them, their supervisor, and department head sign, notarize, and hand to you their full names, addresses, and dates of birth for purposes of personal liability. This comes from a law maxim: “Man is liable for their actions” (“Humans are liable for their actions”). See Nuremberg Tribunal 1945-1947 for a dramatic example. Recent news example: Salt Lake City cop (detective Payne) fired, and supervisor demoted, for falsely (unlawfully) arresting a hospital nurse…

    • guest

      Big F**king Rock.

      Find a big rock. Throw it. If it does not achieve orbit, try again.

    • Scottlowther

      BFR: Big F’ing Rocket. Though I’ve also heard “Big Falcon Rocket.”
      ITAR: International Trade in Arms Regualtion. Basically, it’s a law meant to prevent you from selling weapons to foreigners. The fun thing is that ITAR can be slapped on any technology that the bureaucrats think has weapons potential. Such as rockets.

      • publiusr

        You know something–it is too bad Medaris from the ABMA and Musk never met.

        BFS is a better fit for troop rockets/SUSTAIN than Rhombus

        Forget the space corp under the USAF–bring back the ABMA–and have Musk head it up.

    • Paul451

      Dude, you’re on the internet. Highlight, right click, “search google for…”, top result “BFR (rocket)”.

      Moreso, any reader of this blog who isn’t familiar with Musk’s BFR presentation at the IAC in SA a week ago, IMO, it’s that reader who is a fault. (Especially since Scott reported on it in an earlier post.)

      AFAIC, this wallowing in ignorance, this being proud of ignorance, expecting everyone else to make things simple for you, is one of the great problems with society.