Elon Musk wants to use the biggest rocket SpaceX has ever built to ferry humansaround the globe, promising passengers the ability to get anywhere on Earth in under an hour.
If all goes according to plan it would rely on the same rocket the company is building to take humans to Mars. It would turn a nearly 15-hour flight from Shanghai to New York on a conventional airliner into just a 39-minute trip.
It sounds crazy, but it is “definitely happening,” according to the president and chief operating officer at SpaceX, Gwynne Shotwell.
She sat down with TED curator Chris Anderson this week for a live chat about what SpaceX has been up to lately and got particularly excited when the topic came up.
“This is basically space travel for Earthlings. I can’t wait for this,” she said.
The idea is to pack at least 100 passengers per flight on a super powerful rocket that Musk has dubbed the BFR — which is about two-and-a-half times the size of the Falcon Heavy rocket that put a Tesla into space in February (accidentally overshooting the orbit of Mars).
“Basically we’re going to fly BFR like an aircraft and do point-to-point travel on Earth so you can take off from New York City or Vancouver and fly halfway across the globe,” she said in the interview.
“You’ll be on the BFR for roughly half-an-hour, 40 minutes and the longest part of that flight is actually the boat out (to the floating launch pad) and back.”
If you think that sounds utterly ridiculous, you’re not alone.
“I mean Gwynne, C’mon. This is awesome but it’s crazy right? This is never actually going to happen,” remarked her host, Anderson.
“Oh no, it’s definitely going to happen,” she replied. “This is definitely going to happen.”
According to Shotwell, the cost per ticket will be somewhere between the cost of an economy class and business class airline ticket, a price point made possible by the rapid trips the rocket will take.
“If you think about it, if I can do this trip in about half-an-hour to an hour, I can do dozens of these a day and yet a long-haul aircraft can only make one of those flights a day,” she told the audience.
“So even if my rocket was slightly more expensive and the fuel was a little bit more expensive, I can run 10 times what they’re running in a day and make the revenue I need to out of that system.”
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk mused about the plan at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide last year.
“If you build a ship that’s capable of going to Mars, what if you take that same ship and go from one place to another on Earth?” he wondered out loud to the audience.
Maybe one day soon we’ll find out.