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The problem is that to increase flight rates by 5 orders of magnitude, you need demand to increase by that much. And people are unlikely to demand rocket flights until after they're as safe as plane flights.

Early passenger planes were pretty dangerous to, but they got around the above problem by a) being much faster than trains, making the risk worth it, b) having clear military applications, the military being less worried about losing the occasional aircrew.

I don't really see how SpaceX gets around that chicken and egg problem.




They're going to get around it because this is a secondary market for BFR. Primary market is launching satellites (especially their constellation).

Remember, this point-to-point idea was basically an after-thought. It's decades away, but the rocket will be launching within the next 3-5 years. So they'll have decades to get it right, and the manufacturing line and much of the infrastructure will be paid for.

But you're right about demand. The biggest economic problem is that it's too big. Each BFR needs 1000 passengers. To be economic, it needs to fly multiple times per day, so each BFR needs to fly like a million people every year. Look around to how many people fly long-haul, and you saturate the existing market VERY quickly.

BUT the world is getting richer. Soon (50-80 years?), there will be 5-10 billion middle class folk in the world, an order of magnitude more than now. And if the time for travel can be cut short like this, then you should have some demand induction taking place. So maybe it'd start making economic sense.

There is a fundamental advantage for BFR versus existing aircraft: SpaceX is able to make Falcon 9s and probably BFRs for about the same cost (a little less, actually) per unit dry mass as a 737 or 777 or A380. But a BFR can do trips that'd last 15 hours in a 777 or A380 in less than 1 hour. That means you can do 10 times as many trips, cutting your amortization time and crew hours by an order of magnitude. But that depends on having enough demand, which is pretty questionable except in the long-term.


Total orbital rocket flights/yr are usually considerably less than 100 though, so I'm sceptical they'll ever approach airplane reliability with so few flights.

Honestly, that's kind of why the BFR idea kind of worries me. It feels like SpaceX analysed the need for orbital space-flights, and realized there was unlikely to ever be the kind demand that would provide the economies of scale needed to do what they want. On the otherhand, there's undeniably a large demand for terrestrial travel, so they came up with a way to use rockets for that purpose. It feels like something to show investors, rather than a workable plan.

But hopefully I'm wrong. Economics aside, its certainly cool, and it would be nice to have an application for terrestrial missiles other than nuclear annihilation.


"Total orbital rocket flights/yr are usually considerably less than 100 though, so I'm sceptical they'll ever approach airplane reliability with so few flights."

"with so few flights" is the operative phrase there.

Current launch market is about 60-100/year.

This is why SpaceX invented its constellation: not only does it allow them to make a lot more money than just doing a few dozen launches per year, but it allows them to generate their own demand for launches to justify these crazy Mars rockets. The constellation is for about 12,000 satellites replaced every 4 years or so. Initially 500kg, but Mueller (rocket guy) recently hinted they could get much larger (so let's say 50-100 tons). Therefore, they'll be able to self-generate between 30 and 3000 annual BFR launches on their own. This point to point thing is another add-on market, could be even larger from a launch volume perspective (but, interestingly, smaller from a addressable-market revenue perspective than the constellation). With 3000 flights per year and margin to spare (and the benefit of post-inspection of the rocket in case of a near-miss), you should be about 100-1000x as reliable as today's crewed rockets just to start. Now add point-to-point, and you can do 50,000 BFR flights per year...


You answered your own question: military applications.

The US Armed Forces would pay a LOT of money to move 100+ tons of personnel and materiel anywhere on earth with a flat landing spot in under 60 minutes.

You could have tanks on the ground that were fully operational in under 3 hours (probably half that if they left the BFR packed and fueled for takeoff at all times), or a disaster recovery base set up within 24 hours of the winds dying down (to pick a more topical example.)


Maybe, though the military has studied similar ideas before and nothing has ever come from it, so I'm sceptical they're going to throw the kind of funding at it that would be required here. As a general concern, actual travel time doesn't usually seem to be the main determinant of how fast military forces can be deployed.

But who knows. The idea of a big capsule coming down in a war zone and a bunch of tanks and marines rolling out certainly seems pretty cool, and I'm sure Musk and his lobbyists will at least try and convince the DoD that its something worth throwing a lot of $$ at.


Its not "anywhere on earth with a flat landing spot" if you want to be able to retrieve the thing. It either needs to go somewhere with the very specialized launch infrastructure and personnel it needs or the ability to transport (how to you transport a 48m x 12m cylinder?) it to somewhere that does.


They can fly cargo. FedEx would definitely be able to market such a service.


Yea, but the main advantage of the system over air-travel is that it's fast. For most types of cargo, cost rather then speed is the main issue, especially if the difference is just on the scale of a few hours.


When shipping internationally if cost rather than speed is the concern you ship by boat. Shipping by rocket over a plane would just be another higher tier of service. If Musk's pricing is to be believed it would make shipping between continents potentially faster than shipping within the continent. That would change the industry.




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