SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said at a press event for the just-launched Falcon Heavy that SpaceX will now begin focusing in earnest on “BFR,” the code name for its next big space launch vehicle. BFR (aka “big f*cking rocket,” in case you lack imagination) will be designed to be a vehicle capable of using a single stage to make it all the way to orbit, with fully loaded tanks.
Musk said that BFR might be ready for “short hopper flights with the spaceship part” of the rocket by maybe next year. These will essentially be flights of “increasing complexity,” with the intent being to go out of Earth’s atmosphere and then “come back in hot to test the heat shield,” because BFR’s primary purpose will require it to survive planetary entry, on Earth, Mars and beyond.
“There are a lot of uncertainties around this program, but it is going to be our focus,” Musk said on a press call following Falcon Heavy’s launch. “We’re almost done with Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. After block 5 [the current revision of the Falcon 9] we won’t be doing any more with Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy, and with Dragon probably after Dragon Two [the Crew capsule currently being developed].”
Musk added that of BFR’s design challenges, “the ship part is by far the hardest, because that’s going to come in from super-orbital velocity” around planets including Mars, which is “way harder than coming in from orbit.”
It might be surprising to learn that Musk considers the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy essentially fixed in terms of their design and development at this stage, but he clarified later that their booster-based tech is essentially something that SpaceX understands well now.
“The booster, I think — I don’t want to get complacent, but I think we understand reusable boosters,” Musk said. “Reusable spaceships, that’s the hard part. We’ll go to low-Earth orbit first, but we can go to the moon shortly after that.”
What kind of time frame are we talking about here? Well, according to the SpaceX CEO, we should expect a “full-scale test” of BFR within the next three to four years — meanwhile, Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy will continue to serve customers and bring in revenue.
It’s perhaps counter-intuitive that Elon Musk is talking about the next iteration of his company’s rocket on the evening following his latest design’s very first flight, but the company has always had its eye on what comes next, and BFR is the real key to unlocking Mars and interplanetary transportation.
“Most of our engineering resources will be dedicated to BFR,” Musk said about next steps. “I think this will make this go quickly.”