Could SpaceX’s BFR replace traditional airliners?

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In the year 1620, the Mayflower set sail on
a 64 day journey to cross the Atlantic Ocean, bringing the first Pilgrims from England to
America. In 1919, pilots Alcock and Brown completed
the first non-stop transatlantic flight from Canada to Ireland in under 16 hours. Today, 4 million people make the journey from
New York to London each year, taking them just 7 hours. Over the last 50 years, air travel has become
accessible almost everyone through the increase in airline safety and the reduction in ticket
prices. Ted: It’s an entirely different kind of flying, all together. Everyone together: It’s an entirely different kind of flying. But what is the next big step in air travel? In this video we’re are going to look at
how SpaceX plan to use their Big Falcon Rocket to transport humans around the world in record
time. We are also going to compare the BFR to traditional
airliners and see if orbital rockets could one day replace the aircrafts that we are
all familiar with. In 2017, SpaceX announced that they were seriously working towards using their BFR for Earth to Earth travel. Elon Musk: If you build a ship that’s capable of going to Mars, Elon Musk: Well what if you take that same ship and go from one place to another on Earth? Their plan involved a boat that would take
hundreds of passengers out to a floating launch site where a BFR would be waiting to take
them to their destination. The BFR would launch, separate from it’s
booster and perform a propulsive landing at it’s new destination. By leaving the Earth’s
atmosphere, it would allow the BFR to travel at much greater speeds than a traditional
airliner, therefore reducing flight times enormously. SpaceX predict that the BFR could travel anywhere
on Earth in under an hour and complete most international flights in under 30 minutes. Ted: Surely you can’t be serious. Dr. Rumack: I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley. With the BFR already under construction for
its first trip to Mars in the early 20’s, the reality of Earth to Earth rocket travel
may be closer than we think. However, before we start launching humans around the world on the most powerful rocket ever built, there are some enormous engineering,
economical and political challenges that have to be overcome In order to reach a safety rating which is
on par with traditional airliners, the BFR would have to reach a mortality rate of just 1 death for every 60 MILLION passengers, which the aviation industry achieved in 2017. So far, the spaceflight industry has only
achieved a rate of 1 death for every 31 astronauts, since out of the 564 people that have been
into space, 18 have died. Although this rate is improving with every
crewed mission that heads into space, we still have a long way to go in terms of safety. Not only will the BFR need to be the safest
rocket ever built, it will also need to be the cheapest to operate, if it wants to compete
with the commercial airline industry. Airlines: United, Delta and American all rely on international flights for a large percentage of their revenue. If SpaceX can make the ticket price for a
BFR ride low enough, they could start to make a dent in the traditional airline industry,
not to mention the logistics industry, who stand to benefit if they can start delivering
cargo 25 times faster than an airliner. In order for SpaceX to challenge the commercial airline market, they will need to master the art of rocket reusability. The average price for an economy ticket from
New York to Shanghai costs around $550. According to Musk, the BFR will have a similar capacity to the Airbus A380 at around 850 passengers. Given a similar ticket price, SpaceX would
collect around $467,000 per flight. However, at that price, SpaceX would struggle
to make any profit once they factored in the cost of fueling and launching a rocket of
that size. This is where the importance of reusability
comes in. The Falcon 9 currently costs around $37 million
to manufacture, which is considerably cheaper than an A380, but only 75% of the Falcon 9
is reusable and still requires a lot of costly refurbishment, only to be thrown away after
about 10 flights. Compare this to an aircraft like the Airbus
A380 which typically has a lifespan of around 27 YEARS and can make about 35,000 flights
before being retired. If these airplanes were thrown away after
just a few flights, there wouldn’t be a market for commercial air travel. Unlike the Falcon 9, the BFR is designed to
be fully reusable and able to endure hundreds of flights before any refurbishment is needed. So for a flight like New York to Shanghai,
the ticket price for a BFR ride will need to be somewhere between economy class and business class in order for SpaceX to make a profit. One of the biggest challenges of all will
most likely come in the form of seeking government approval. Getting governments around the world to co-operate
and approve something so complex and risky is not going to be easy. So to protect the population from falling
rockets and to reduce the sound disturbance, the BFR will initially launch and land at
sea. This is another obstacle for BFR passenger
transport since it would only be able to travel between big coastal cities, leaving the traditional airliners to take care of the small regional flights. Another objection to BFR Earth travel is the
intense acceleration that passengers will be put through during launch and landing. Elon Musk mentioned that the G-forces would be similar to a roller coaster ride at around 2 or 3 G’s. This rules out a large chunk of the population
like the elderly, pregnant women and those with heart conditions who will prefer to fly
on a cheaper and more comfortable ride which airliners currently offer. So although the idea of rockets replacing
airliners is currently just a dream, which many people think is impossible, It’s important to remember that the same thing was once said about airplanes. To understand where we are in terms of the
aviation curve, let’s look at what things were like in the early days of airplanes. Back in the early 20th century, the only airplanes
that existed were being built in people’s garages and looked like this. Then, the government realized that airplanes could be used for delivering mail to other parts of the country. So they started to give out contracts with
prize money to those who could build the plane that travelled the fastest, the highest and
the furthest. Airplane technology started to develop and
planes became safer, engines became more advanced and the planes themselves started to grow larger and larger, allowing them to carry more mail. Then, people started to realize that instead
of carrying mail, they could carry people. The airline industry was born. Throughout the first and second World War,
the need for advanced airplanes was at an all time high and aircraft technology developed
rapidly with the first jet powered aircraft going into service in 1943. Fast forward to 2018 and it’s easy to see
how much things have improved. Air travel is now one of the safest forms
of transport and airplanes are capable of flying 9,000 miles whilst carrying 850 passengers
at a time. We really have come a long way! So although the idea of travelling around
Earth in a rocket is met with many obstacles. It is very exciting to see that such an ambitious
idea is actually being pursued. What do you think of BFR Earth travel? Will it come to fruition or will struggle
to reach the safety standards of traditional airliners? Let me know in the comments below. If you enjoyed this video and would like to contribute to Primal Space, please visit: Patreon.com/PrimalSpace where we will be doing a giveaway of a Saturn V Lego set once we reach 50 Patrons. So make sure you’re subscribed so you can join in the discussion as we continue to learn more about all things space. Thank you very much for watching and I’ll see you in the next video.

 

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