SpaceX Has Apparently Tweaked Its Giant BFR Rocket Design. And It Looks Awesome!

SpaceX Has Apparently Tweaked Its Giant BFR Rocket Design. And It Looks Awesome!
SpaceX to announce private tourist who will fly to the moon
The hard-charging rocket firm, run by billionaire Elon Musk, announced the news Thursday evening from its official Twitter handle.

“SpaceX has signed the worlds first private passenger to fly around the Moon aboard our BFR launch vehicle—an important step toward enabling access for everyday people who dream of traveling to space,” the tweet said. “Find out whos flying and why on Monday, September 17.”

There were only two other clues—tweets from Elon Musk himself. Was the rendering of the Big Falcon Spaceship in SpaceXs 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.

The BFR, or Big Falcon Rocket, is SpaceXs forthcoming spaceship system that consists of two parts: A massive rocket booster that promises to out-power any ever built, and a towering spacecraft that will vault out of the Earths atmosphere.

On Thursday evening, without any advance notice, SpaceX tweeted that is had signed the worlds “first private passenger to fly around the Moon aboard our BFR launch vehicle.” Moreover, the company promised to reveal “whos flying and why” on Monday, September 17. The announcement will take place at the companys headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif.

Elon Musks SpaceX Says It Signed Up Its First Round-the-Moon Tourist

Its not clear whether the BFR tourism mission has any link to an announcement SpaceX made in February 2017.

Elon Musks SpaceX, demonstrating its founder and chief executives penchant for showmanship, announced that it had signed up the first private passenger seeking to fly around the moon. But the company provided no timetable or other details about the plan.

At the time, SpaceX said two people signed a deal with SpaceX to make a trip around the moon aboard a Falcon Heavy rocket. SpaceX was tight-lipped about the financial terms of the deal and the identity of the individuals.

About one year after that, in February of this year, SpaceX debuted the long-awaited Falcon Heavy, which became the worlds most powerful operational launch vehicle.

But Musk threw a curve ball during a Falcon Heavy press conference earlier this year when he told reporters that, for the time being, SpaceX had no plans to certify the Falcon Heavy for human spaceflight.

Instead, Musk said, SpaceX would turn its focus to developing the BFR, which he deemed a better option for tourism missions.

“You could send people back to the Moon” on the Falcon Heavy rocket, Musk said at the time. “But I wouldnt recommend doing that, because I think the new architecture, the BFR architecture, is the way to go.”

Musk, who is well-known for issuing overly ambitious schedules, said during a Q&A in March that he hoped to begin testing the spaceship portion of the BFR sometime in 2019.

SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell gave a more generous time frame for BFRs debut during a TED Talk in April, saying it would launch “within a decade.”

MORE SpaceX's giant Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) has a sleek new look for an audacious private passenger flight around the moon. If an early rendering is anything to go by, the BFR is going to have some wild fins.

Late last night (Sept. 13), SpaceX announced that it has signed a deal to launch a private passenger flight around the moon with its new BFR megarocket sometime in the future. Details are scant — SpaceX will unveil more on Monday (Sept. 17) during a live webcast — but the private spaceflight company did unveil a new artist's concept of a BFR passenger rocket around the moon. [The BFR in Images: SpaceX's Giant Spaceship for Mars & Beyond]

Does that new BFR art look sci-fi? Yes. But is it actually a new version of SpaceX's BFR? Also, apparently, yes.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk suggested as much Thursday night. When asked if the SpaceX artist's rendering was a new version of the BFR, he replied with a straightforward "Yes."

Taken at face value, the new BFR art suggests SpaceX has made some slight changes to the huge, crewed spaceship.

SpaceX has signed the world’s first private passenger to fly around the Moon aboard our BFR launch vehicle—an important step toward enabling access for everyday people who dream of traveling to space. Find out who's flying and why on Monday, September 17.

The new rendering shows the BFR spaceship with three large fins, giving it a vaguely shuttle-like profile. There is also a hint of a darker-colored heat shield along its belly, but again, it's unclear. Both elements would be a departure from earlier designs shown by Musk at International Astronautical Congress meetings in 2016 and 2017. (It was at the 2017 meeting that Musk dubbed the spacecraft the "BFR." It was called the Interplanetary Transport System before that.) In both of those cases, the BFR had only the slightest hint of two fins, swept far back.

The new rendering shows the BFR crewed spacecraft with seven engines (presumably, SpaceX's new Raptors) firing as it rounds the moon. Musk's presentation in 2017 showed a BFR with a total of six Raptor engines, two of which were sea-level engines and the other four reserved for use in the vacuum of space. So, the rendering suggests a new BFR version with seven engines capable of firing in a vacuum.

But what about the booster? The earlier BFR designs shown by Musk in 2016 and 2017 used a massive reusable booster to launch the crewed spaceship into orbit and then return to Earth for later reuse like SpaceX's Falcon 9 first stages in use today.

In 2016, that BFR booster was gigantic — 40 feet wide (12 meters) — and powered by 42 Raptor engines. By 2017, SpaceX had scaled the booster down a bit. In that new design, the booster was 30 feet (9 m) wide and powered by 31 Raptor engines.

For comparison, the first stage of SpaceX's workhorse Falcon 9 rocket is 12 feet wide (3.7 m) and powered by nine of the company's Merlin engines. SpaceX's heavy-lift Falcon Heavy rocket includes two Falcon 9 first stages around a core booster, each of which uses nine Merlin engines, for a total of 27 engines.

But has the new BFR spaceship's booster changed since last year? It's not clear, and we'll have to wait until Monday to find out.

Just as a refresher, SpaceX's BFR system (the name can also mean the "Big F—— Rocket") as laid out by Musk in 2017 was defined as the following:

We'll have to wait until SpaceX's big reveal on Monday to find out how much of the BFR design has really changed.

And then there's the mystery question: Exactly who is SpaceX's private passenger for the BFR flight around the moon? In February 2017, Musk announced that SpaceX would fly two passengers on a private trip around the moon using its Falcon Heavy rocket and Dragon spacecraft. But earlier this year, Musk said the Falcon Heavy would not fly crewed Dragon flights, with SpaceX shifting instead to its BFR development for deep-space voyages.

Musk has released one tantalizing morsel as a possible clue: Late Thursday, he posted an emoji of a Japanese flag on Twitter in response to a question about who was flying the mission. (The actual tongue-in-cheek question asked if Musk was the passenger. The billionaire did not address it directly.)

So, what do you think about SpaceX's BFR lunar flight plan? We'll find out more Monday, when Musk unveils new details in a webcast at 9 p.m. EDT (0100 GMT on Sept. 18). You can watch the SpaceX moon shot webcast live here, courtesy of SpaceX.

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