SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has suggested that the company’s new Mars rocket may be ready for testing by early 2019.
This new rocket is called the Big F*cking Rocket (BFR), details of which were revealed by Musk in September last year. It’s a giant reusable shuttle that SpaceX eventually wants to use to colonize Mars, carrying 100 people at a time.
And speaking in a Q&A at the South by South West (SXSW) conference yesterday, March 11, in Austin, Texas Musk said they were already building the first BFR. “I think we'll be able to do short flights, sort of up-and-down flights, probably some time in the first half of next year,” he said.
It’s not entirely clear what he means here, but it’s possible he’s referring to short “grasshopper” tests, similar to what the company did with its Falcon 9 rocket years ago, before reusable flights began. He’s not suggesting they will start BFR flights to Mars in 2019, as some places are reporting.
Musk has been known for his rather ambitious timelines, which he acknowledged. “People have told me that my timelines historically have been optimistic, so I'm trying to recalibrate to some degree here,” he said.
In January the company launched its huge new Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time, which is now the most powerful rocket currently in operation. However, Musk has suggested that the BFR will become SpaceX’s main rocket in the near-future, replacing both the Falcon Heavy and the Falcon 9.
“What's amazing about the ship, assuming we can make full and rapid reusability work is that we can reduce the cost, marginal cost per flight, dramatically,” he said, noting they were aiming for a launch cost of $5-6 million. "It is the fundamental breakthrough that's needed."
In a panel discussion for HBO’s Westworld TV show, Musk also revealed a short highlights reel of the Falcon Heavy launch, which included previously unseen footage of the third booster of the Falcon Heavy booster crashing into the ocean.
Musk also said that both SpaceX and Tesla were alive only “by the skin of their teeth”, referring to a period in 2008 when he was struggling to fund both companies. Since then, however, they have gone from strength to strength, with Tesla currently rolling out its new Model 3 mass-market electric car.
We first heard that the BFR might fly in 2019 earlier this year, when Musk said SpaceX had already “decided to focus our future developments on the BFR.” Now it looks like Musk is doubling down on that promise. We’ll have to wait and see if SpaceX can stick to this deadline but, if all goes to plan, we might see the BFR for the first time in a year.