Will Rockets Replace Planes?
Come abroad and find out why rockets are set to replace commercial aircraft
Anywhere in the world, in less than an hour.” Elon Musk and his company SpaceX may have already revolutionized the way we utilize rocketry, but now they seek to use their technology to take us to Mars, the Moon, and even from city to city. And, quite amazingly, the price of enjoying this last application could cost the same as an economy airline ticket.
Known as the ‘Big Falcon Rocket’, or more simply as the BFR, SpaceX’s upcoming spacecraft is set to satisfy all of our space-faring needs in one neat package. It will build upon the staggering success of their previous two rocket designs: the Falcon 9, which at the time of writing has successfully completed nine launches in 2018, and the Falcon Heavy, which first took to the skies in February of this year.
These rockets have demonstrated for the first time in our history that not only you can land the first stage of a rocket booster on the ground safely, but you can reuse it. It is from the milestone that the BFR’s goal to not only take people off-world, but also shuttle them around it, becomes both viable and immensely promising for the future.
Standing at a mammoth 106 meters in total, the BFR will be composed of two major stages: a 58-meter-tall booster used to lift the vehicle into orbit, and a ship mounted atop the booster. This front portion will be equipped with 1,100 tons of additional fuel and boast a large, pressurized cabin for its city-to-city launches. This will give the BFR everything it will need to send customers into sub-orbit and speeding around the globe.
Here, passengers will be treated to not only arriving at their destination ludicrously quickly, but also to the majestic views of our planet that so far only a few lucky individual have seen.
Surely those sights alone will justify the cost of the ticket, with the fast arrival time becoming a rather big cherry on top.
It should be noted that SpaceX is not alone in its lofty ambitions. Not so far away another private company, Virgin Galactic, are creeping ever closer to their own sub-orbital flights. They plan for these to initially be sold for recreation and research, but also harbor long-term goals of trans-continental transport.
Unlike the BFR, their two-component system involves a jet-powered carrier aircraft an attached rocket-powered ship, which releases from the carrier craft and launches towards space once at altitude. Across the Atlantic, UK Company Reaction Engines also dream of a vehicle that can soar from the runway to space as one whole unit.
Their pioneering air-breathing SABRE engine aims to be an alternative to pure rocket power or jet engine / rocket hybrid s like that of Virgin Galactic. Although this technology isn’t currently as tangible as SpaceX’s, it would almost certainly have incredible transport applications if it were to come to fruition.
In 1873, Jules Verne published a story about a man’s attempt to race around the world in 80 days. It is a tale of great adventure, but one that pales in comparison to the journey that we have taken as a species in the years since its publication.
We have ascended from the ground to the air, and from the air to the realm beyond. In fact, such is the staggering progress of our technological prowess over these years that be 2023, getting around the world in 80 minutes may not be quite quick enough.
Same goal, different approach
SpaceX’s plan to utilize a sub-orbital vehicle for incredibly fast transport isn’t a new one. Even decades earlier in 1986, when Ronald Reagan announced his plans to fund a vehicle that could get from Washington DC, US, to Tokyo, Japan in two hours, it wasn’t a novel idea.
But the difference between SpaceX’s ideas and those of the past has rested in their approach to the problem. Reagan’s government and NASA wanted to construct the National Aero-Space plane (NASP) as a single unit that could act as both aircraft and spacecraft with a unique engine design.
They had shied away from rockets due to their one-use-only restriction. But the answer to finding a commercial space-faring vehicles, as SpaceX has shown, didn’t lie in finding a new way to generate enough thrust to get into orbit, but in a way to make the rocket stages reusable.
City-to-City on the BFR
Hop abroad the Big Falcon Rocket and travel to anywhere in the world in under 60 minutes
Lift-off: 52,700 kN of thrust, provided by the booster rocket, will be used to lift the spacecraft out of the atmosphere.
Cool ascent: Thanks to the engine’s liquid oxygen and liquid methane fuel, the launch will feel relatively smooth and comfortable.
Smoot journey: Above our planet’s dense atmosphere, passengers will be free from turbulence. They can relax and enjoy the awe-inspiring views of Earth from above.
Detachment: Its job done, the booster rocket will detach. The ship’s Raptor engines will then ignite, boosting the aircraft to top speed of 27.000 kph.
Reusable: The first stage booster will be able to land autonomously. It will then be reserviced, refueled and reused.