from the queue-up-some-Pink-Floyd-for-the-journey dept.
After a previously planned flight around the Moon using a Falcon Heavy fizzled out, SpaceX has announced that it will send a private passenger around the Moon using a BFR launch vehicle. More details will be announced on Monday:
On Thursday evening, without any advance notice, SpaceX tweeted that is had signed the world's "first private passenger to fly around the Moon aboard our BFR launch vehicle." Moreover, the company promised to reveal "who's flying and why" on Monday, September 17. The announcement will take place at the company's headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif.
There were only two other clues—tweets from Elon Musk himself. Was the rendering of the Big Falcon Spaceship in SpaceX's tweet new? Yes, Musk said. And was he the passenger? In response to this, the founder of SpaceX simply tweeted a Japanese flag emoji. This would seem to be a strong clue that the passenger is from Japan. Or maybe Musk was enjoying the epic Seven Samurai movie at that moment.
By announcing this on Thursday, and waiting four days to provide more details, the company has set off a big guessing game as to who will fly. Of course that is an interesting question, but we have many other questions that we'd like to see answered before that. We've included some of those questions below, along with some wild and (slightly) informed guesses. Musk even answered one of them for us.
The design of the BFS has apparently changed to include three prominent fins and an underside heat shield.
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Howard Bloom has written a guest blog at Scientific American addressing the Trump Administration's plan to return to (orbit) the Moon. That mission would use the Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule, which have cost $18 billion through 2017 but are not expected to launch astronauts into space until around 2023. Bloom instead proposes using private industry to put a base on the Moon, using technology such as SpaceX's Falcon Heavy (estimated $135 million per launch vs. $500 million for the Space Launch System) and Bigelow Aerospace's inflatable habitat modules:
[NASA's acting administrator Robert] Lightfoot's problem lies in the two pieces of NASA equipment he wants to work with: a rocket that's too expensive to fly and is years from completion—the Space Launch System; and a capsule that's far from ready to carry humans—the Orion. Neither the SLS nor the Orion are able to land on the Moon. Let me repeat that. Once these pieces of super-expensive equipment reach the moon's vicinity, they cannot land.
Who is able to land on the lunar surface? Elon Musk and Robert Bigelow. Musk's rockets—the Falcon and the soon-to-be-launched Falcon Heavy—are built to take off and land. So far their landing capabilities have been used to ease them down on earth. But the same technology, with a few tweaks, gives them the ability to land payloads on the surface of the Moon. Including humans. What's more, SpaceX's upcoming seven-passenger Dragon 2 capsule has already demonstrated its ability to gentle itself down to earth's surface. In other words, with a few modifications and equipment additions, Falcon rockets and Dragon capsules could be made Moon-ready.
[...] In 2000, Bigelow purchased a technology that Congress had ordered NASA to abandon: inflatable habitats. For the last sixteen years Bigelow and his company, Bigelow Aerospace, have been advancing inflatable habitat technology. Inflatable technology lets you squeeze a housing unit into a small package, carry it by rocket to a space destination, then blow it up like a balloon. Since the spring of 2016, Bigelow, a real estate developer and founder of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain, has had an inflatable habitat acting as a spare room at the International Space Station 220 miles above your head and mine. And Bigelow's been developing something far more ambitious—an inflatable Moon Base, that would use three of his 330-cubic-meter B330 modules. What's more, Bigelow has been developing a landing vehicle to bring his modules gently down to the Moon's surface.
[...] If NASA ditched the Space Launch System and the Orion, it would free up three billion dollars a year. That budget could speed the Moon-readiness of Bigelow's landing vehicles, not to mention SpaceX's Falcon rockets and could pay for lunar enhancements to manned Dragon 2 capsules. In fact, three billion dollars a year is far greater than what Bigelow and Musk would need. That budget would also allow NASA to bring Jeff Bezos into the race. And it would let NASA refocus its energy on earth-orbit and lunar-surface refueling stations...plus rovers, lunar construction equipment, and devices to turn lunar ice into rocket fuel, drinkable water, and breathable oxygen. Not to mention machines to turn lunar dust and rock into building materials.
An organization that Howard Bloom founded, The Space Development Steering Committee, has been short one member recently (Edgar Mitchell).
Two paying customers will travel to the "deep space" beyond the Moon. SpaceX will use the Falcon Heavy to deliver an automated Crew Dragon capsule carrying the unnamed customers next year. Falcon Heavy has not flown yet, and is expected to be tested this summer. NASA will use the Crew Dragon capsule to send astronauts to the International Space Station in 2018, after an unmanned test this year.
SpaceX will not reveal the identities of the participants until they complete health and fitness tests:
We are excited to announce that SpaceX has been approached to fly two private citizens on a trip around the moon late next year. They have already paid a significant deposit to do a moon mission. Like the Apollo astronauts before them, these individuals will travel into space carrying the hopes and dreams of all humankind, driven by the universal human spirit of exploration. We expect to conduct health and fitness tests, as well as begin initial training later this year. Other flight teams have also expressed strong interest and we expect more to follow. Additional information will be released about the flight teams, contingent upon their approval and confirmation of the health and fitness test results.
SpaceX will attempt to launch five Falcon 9 rockets in April. This includes an International Space Station (ISS) resupply mission and a mission to launch Bangabandhu-1, Bangladesh's first satellite. The Bangabandhu-1 launch is planned to be the first to use SpaceX's Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket, which may be the final major iteration of Falcon 9 before replacement by BFR.
At a South by Southwest (SXSW) panel, Elon Musk said that SpaceX could test the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) "spaceship" as soon as the first half of 2019. The spaceship is the second stage of the complete BFR rocket, would be capable of reaching orbit without the first stage booster, and alone has over 50% more thrust than an entire Falcon 9.
The initial tests would likely be similar to the Grasshopper vertical takeoff and landing tests.
SpaceX can start building its "Big Fucking Rocket," now that it has officially found a home in LA. Mayor Eric Garcetti has announced on Twitter that the private space giant "will start production development of the Big Falcon Rocket (the spacecraft's tamer name, apparently)" at the port of Los Angeles. SpaceX designed the 348-foot-long behemoth to fly humanity to the moon, Mars and beyond. It will be able to carry up to  tons in payload, whereas Falcon Heavy can only carry [63.8] tons. "This vehicle holds the promise of taking humanity deeper into the cosmos than ever before," he added, along with an illustration of the company's massive interplanetary spacecraft.
Finally, it's worth noting just how shockingly busy the BFR tent was on both April 13th and 14th, as well as the 8th (the first day Pauline visited the facility). With upwards of 40 cars parked at the tent, it's blindingly clear that SpaceX is not simply using the tent as a temporary storage location – alongside the arrival of composite fabrication materials (prepreg sheets, epoxy, etc) from Airtech International, SpaceX undeniably intends to begin initial fabrication of the first BFR prototypes in this tent, although they will likely eventually move the activities to the Berth 240 Mars rocket factory. That's certainly not a sentence I ever expected to write, but it is what it is.
The BFR's height may be elongated from its planned total of 106 meters.
Four months after President Trump directed NASA to return to the Moon, the agency has presented a road map to meet the goals outlined in Space Policy Directive-1. The updated plan shifts focus from the previous "Journey to Mars" campaign back to the Moon, and—eventually—to the Red Planet.
"The Moon will play an important role in expanding human presence deeper into the solar system," said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA, in a release issued by the agency.
While the revamped plan may share the same destination as the Apollo program, NASA said it will approach the return in a more measured and sustainable manner. Unlike humanity's first trip to the Moon, the journey back will incorporate both commercial and international partners.
To achieve this, NASA has outlined four strategic goals:
- Transition low-Earth orbit (LEO) human spaceflight activities to commercial operators.
- Expand long-duration spaceflight activities to include lunar orbit.
- Facilitate long-term robotic lunar exploration.
- Use human exploration of the Moon as groundwork for eventual human missions to Mars and beyond.
This may be the best outcome for the space program. Let NASA focus on the Moon with an eye towards permanently stationing robots and humans there, and let SpaceX or someone else take the credit for a 2020s/early-2030s manned Mars landing. Then work on a permanent presence on Mars using cheaper rocket launches, faster propulsion technologies, better radiation shielding, hardier space potatoes, etc.
Previously: President Trump Signs Space Policy Directive 1
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During a press conference at his company's Hawthorne, CA headquarters, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced the first planned private passenger to travel into deep space and around the Moon. Yusaku Maezawa, a billionaire fashion entrepreneur and art collector, paid an undisclosed amount to become one of the first people to fly on a SpaceX Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), with a target date of 2023. If the launch happens, he won't be going alone. Maezawa (aka "MZ") plans to invite at least six to eight artists to accompany him on a journey around the Moon. The passengers chosen may be painters, sculptors, musicians, fashion designers, dancers, film directors, architects, etc. and are intended to represent the Earth and participate in an art exhibition after returning to Earth. Musk himself has also been invited. The project is called #dearMoon.
Yusaku Maezawa approached SpaceX and made a contribution that will pay for a "non-trivial" amount of the BFR's development costs. During the Q&A, Musk estimated that the entire development of BFR would cost around $5 billion, or no less than $2 billion and no more than $10 billion. Other potential sources of funding for BFR development include SpaceX's top priority, Crew Dragon flights to the International Space Station (ISS), as well as satellite launches and Starlink satellite broadband service.
Maezawa (along with a guest) was a previously announced anonymous customer for a Falcon Heavy ride around the Moon. SpaceX currently has no plans to human-rate the Falcon Heavy. The switch from Falcon Heavy to BFR will substantially increase the maximum number of passengers and comfort level attainable on a nearly week-long mission, since the Crew Dragon 2 has a pressurized volume of just 10 m3, about 1% of the volume of the BFS.