In a webcast news conference tonight, Elon Musk revealed that the first paying customer to fly on the ambitious SpaceX rocket known as the BFR, for Big Fucking Rocket, will be Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese billionaire best known for founding the online, custom-sized clothing company Zozo. Along with Maezawa, there will be between six to eight seats available to artists for the journey to the moon.
The whole webcast is available here:
Musk was offered a seat on the mission by Maezawa, but was non-committal as to whether or not he would take the seat.
Very little is actually known for certain about the BFR or the proposed mission that Maezawa and the crew of perhaps up to twelve would undertake. Musk admitted in the webcast that nothing is guaranteed or absolutely certain to work, though Maezawa did admit he had paid some sort of down payment.
Musk stated they’d like to hit a 2023 deadline, but emphasized that this was by no means binding.
A new design of the BFR was revealed via tweets from Musk as well, and shows some significant changes from earlier versions of the massive spacecraft we’ve seen so far:
This rendering shows a new geodesic-style dome of windows at the nose of the craft, a design that would provide by far the largest window on any vehicle ever launched into space. There are more prominent fins/wings than we’ve seen previously, as well.
Another tweet shows a new engine configuration with seven engines, and in the webcast you can see a rear view of the BFR, showing a cylindrical cross-section with the seven SpaceX Raptor engines, with the capability of having up to four engines fail and still being able to complete its mission and a possible landing.
Around the perimeter of the BFR are modular cargo modules, which could be swapped for additional engines for increased cargo-carrying capacity for missions to Mars.
It appears that this first mission will be a lunar flyby, a loop around the moon, and while a mission profile has yet to be decided, Musk stated that he’d like to see a very close lunar flyby at one end of the loop, and a large enough loop that would allow for a large distance away from the Earth and Moon’s orbital plane at the other end. The mission is expected to take four or five days per leg of the journey, and Musk made clear uncrewed test missions would take place first.
Musk estimated development costs on the BFR would be around US $5 billion dollars, and more broadly, not more than $10 billion, and not less than $2 billion.
Of the desire to go to the Moon, Musk said:
“It’s 2018. Why is there no base on the damn moon? There should be there! And we should go there, a lot.”
Strong agree. As far as the ability of the BFR to actually land on the Moon—or any other body in the solar system—Musk claimed this would be possible.
“BFR is designed to land on any surface in the solar system, whether there is air there or not...propulsive landing is the way to go.”
As far as what artists Maezawa would take with him to the Moon, Maezawa mentioned he would most have loved to take Basquiat, who wouldn’t be able to go, of course, because he’s dead.
I do really like the idea of taking artists to the moon. There have been artists who’ve gone to space—Soviet Cosmonaut Alexi Leonov, for example, was an accomplished painter, and the potential for providing artists with such an experience could result in some incredible artworks.
As an aside, Elon did admit that he should likely rename the rocket at some point, and revealed that he’d like to name the first ship to Mars the Heart of Gold, after the Improbability Drive-equipped spaceship from the book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Musk emphasized that the mission was dangerous and full of uncertainties, and that’s absolutely true. The BFR is still unbuilt and unproven, and development of such a large-scale spacecraft is daunting, to deeply understate it.
The scale and capabilities of the BFR would dwarf pretty much every other spacecraft ever built; in fact, if the mission launches with eight artists and four other crew, that will be equal to the total number of astronauts who have walked on the Moon in every Apollo lunar landing mission.
The SpaceX plan is bold and very exciting, and the addition of a paying customer with a mission plan certainly helps, but there is a hell of a lot of work that has to be done to make this happen.
SpaceX has yet to prove it can even successfully fly a human-rated spacecraft, though they should get their chance to show that in 2019 when their Crew Dragon capsule ferries its first crew to the International Space Station.
I find all of this quite exciting, but so far it’s just some talk. Talk with some money behind it now, sure, and some potentially good plans, but there’s a lot that has yet to happen. I still have a lot of questions about the fundamental design of the BFR as well, and I’m going to be watching the project closely to see how the final design of the spacecraft pans out.
Despite my recent issues with Musk, I sure as hell hope he can pull this off.