Updated: Oct 3, 2018
SpaceX has just announced that the company has secured the first private passenger who will embark on a round trip journey from Earth and venturing around the moon. Securing the first private passengers is essentially securing future funding that will eventually allow for a broader customer base to climb aboard and experience their own exploration missions around the moon.
The announcement from the company also brought along the first look at the newly redesigned BFR vehicle that SpaceX plans to use to shuttle passengers around the moon and, eventually, to Mars. The new render features stabilizing fins, a different engine configuration and a previously unseen feature at the nose of the vehicle. The newly rendered plans bring a wealth of new information and questions alike.
SpaceX plans to release more information in an announcement coming Monday, September 17th.
When this happens, we will update this article to reflect all further developments.
SpaceX announced on a Friday evening that a live announcement event would be forthcoming at their factory headquarters in Hawthorne, CA on Monday evening. The planned announcement would center around revealing the identity of the first ever private citizen to embark on a journey around the moon and back. Throughout the weekend many space reporters, photographers, and enthusiasts spent hours speculating who the passenger could be, the cost of such an undertaking, and, thanks to updated renderings released with the announcement, what hardware changes would be coming to SpaceX’s futuristic interplanetary, and currently under construction, booster and flight vehicle the BFR (Big Falcon Rocket) and the BFS (Big Falcon Spaceship).
Company president, Elon Musk, appeared on the factory floor in front of a Falcon 9 booster and spent the better part of an hour and a half presenting new information that answered many of the lingering questions, including who the first paying private spaceflight customer would be.
Before announcing the identity of the paying customer, however, Musk spent a few minutes reviewing the overall mission of SpaceX, the progress the company has made in the nearly 10 years of operation, and specific design updates to the BFR. Musk also took some time to thank NASA for its investment and trust with it’s previously awarded servicing contracts for cargo resupply and future crewed missions to the International Space Station (ISS). He stated that the support received by NASA has been instrumental in the success of SpaceX thus far and will continue to be it’s primary directive. The company is currently in the process of manufacturing their Crew Dragon capsule for upcoming test flights to return American Crew Members to the ISS from American soil. Musk stated that once these objectives have been solidly met the company would only then turn it’s main focus and more asset allocation to the BFR development.
Musk then spent some time explaining the new hardware updates to the BFR and expected landing process accompanied by brand new artist renderings. He explained that the new design specifications for the BFR/BFS are intended to ensure that it can be used as an interplanetary transport system to travel to Mars and destinations far beyond. He mentioned that the BFR/BFS combination will stand about 118 meters high and is planned to have the capacity of transporting a payload of 100 metric tons to the surface of Mars, or further destinations, given there are propellant depots stationed along the journey for refueling.
The new flight vehicle will also be equipped with actuated forward fins and two rear fins that will serve as combined actuated fins and landing pads. It will also feature a static fin to serve a landing pad, not intended for vertical stabilization and will look close to the other two for symmetrical aesthetics. According to Musk the BFS will utilize this system of “four control surfaces to be able to control the vehicle through a wide range of atmospheric densities and velocities.” The majority of the differences with the landing pads and forward actuating fins are for re-entry and landing efforts. Musk admits that the process will be “counterintuitive” to what we’re used to seeing with vehicles landing, for example, with airplanes. It is expected for the BFS to land more in the manner of a skydiver falling belly-first to the ground.
Musk went on to introduce the SpaceX stage combustion full flow Raptor engine that both the BFR and BFS will utilize for propulsion. He was sure to spend some time praising the SpaceX propulsion team for the design and engineering of the hardware. He stated that the difficult part of development was framing the question of how to best get BFS/BFR into orbit. He then stated that the SpaceX team has done a “phenomenal job” with providing an answer and a workable engine design. The Raptor engines are also an accomplishment because they will utilize methane as a fuel and produce approximately 200 tons of thrust and 300 BAR. This will double the current amount a capability found in SpaceX’s current workhorse, the Falcon 9’s, which utilized 9 Merlin 1D engines. Like the Falcon Heavy with 27 engines, the BFR first stage will be comprised of many capable smaller engines, rather than a few large powerful engines like previous long range vehicles such as the Saturn V which utilized 5 F1 engines. The new renderings seem to depict that the BFR first stage will utilize 31 Raptor engines, the same amount proposed with the 2017 BFR update. The BFS vehicle itself is expected to fly with 7 Raptor engines. It will be capable of landing with only 3 of those engines if needed.
With an update of all the hardware out of the way Musk transitioned to conversation regarding funding for this BFR/BFS venture. He explained that SpaceX will continue to gain revenue through providing launching services for private customers, along with fulfilling military/NASA contracts, and expected revenue from the Starlink global internet endeavor that will be coming online soon. He then took the opportunity to introduce the first paying customer to charter the BFR/BFS for a voluntary flight around the moon and back.
That paying customer is Japanese entrepreneur billionaire Yusaku Maezawa. He announced excitedly “I choose to go to the moon.”
Least expected he added on to this comment by saying “I want to share this.” He has opened up his chartered voyage to taking others along with him. He has decided to fund the entire first endeavor and fill the seats with artists of his choosing. He introduced this new opportunity as the project Dear Moon.
He has opened up the possibility for artists from around the globe to submit artwork for the opportunity to join him on his trip around the moon and back. He wishes that whoever will eventually join him on the journey will experience it and return to Earth to create masterful works of art that will change the world and encourage world peace. This will be open to artists of all types of mediums. Maezawa plans to select six to eight artists to take with him.
The launch of the historic mission is expected No Earlier Than (NET) 2023 which Musk stated was a best scenario timeline. It will come after many hop tests at the company’s soon to be built testing facility in Boca Chica, Texas and many uncrewed test flights around the moon and back. It is important that the expected six day trip is tested and perfected with the hardware and landing procedures before introducing paying customers. SpaceX released and expected lunar flyby flight profile which tentatively depicts launching and landing procedures to occur from Florida’s Space Coast. This historic flight will be notable for many reasons, including that this will be the first time that non-Americans will make it to the moon.
It was eventually revealed that Maezawa was the original benefactor who purchased seats for the first lunar flyby mission originally planned to occur with the Falcon Heavy vehicle. When the information was released in 2017 the identity of the benefactor remained confidential. The change of flight vehicle was expected when in 2017 Musk stated that the Falcon Heavy would not be rated for human flight. The original planned for Maezawa and one other crew member to participate in the flight. This new plan to utilize the BFR/BFS will allow Maezawa to bring more artists with him, potentially a full flight crew, and even Musk himself. When Musk was asked about when he would be seeing space he gave a vague answer eventually alluding to the possibility of joining Maezawa on his journey, to which he did not say no.
Musk also stated that the way that this mission has come about and what has turned into has “done a lot to restore my faith in humanity.” The same sentiments can be expressed by a multitude of people. Knowing that people who ordinarily would never have the opportunity to visit space and are artists as well gives a lot of people hope.
The full announcement video can be viewed below.