Elon Musk has unveiled a futuristic vision of intercity rocket-propelled travel, where flights to anywhere in the world would take minutes and cost no more than the price of an economy airline ticket.
In an earthbound offshoot of his dream of interplanetary travel, the SpaceX founder said his next BFR mega-rocket would be able to whisk passengers anywhere in the world in under an hour.
The far-sighted entrepreneur, whose main job is running the electric car company Tesla Motors, tweeted: “Fly to most places on Earth in under 30 mins and anywhere in under 60. Cost per seat should be about the same as full fare economy in an aircraft.”
Mr Musk, who made his first fortune founding online payments company PayPal, has frequently astonished business colleagues with ideas that sound like science fiction. But the South African-born businessman believes that only by populating other planets will humans avoid an extinction-triggering environmental disaster on earth.
His latest idea is modest by comparison. The plan for intercity rocket travel was unveiled on Friday at the International Astronautical Congress held this year in Adelaide, where he delivered a long speech, most of which was taken up with his main space project, to land cargo spaceships on Mars by 2022.
“The results are quite interesting” he said, as he shared a video simulation showing passengers boarding a rocket on a floating launch pad off New York, before landing at a similar facility in Shanghai 7,000 miles away and 39 minutes later.
He said flying above the earth’s atmosphere, the passenger experience would be “smooth as silk”, pointing out “the great thing about going into space is there’s no friction”.
He acknowledged the ambition may “look ridiculous” but said: “You need to look at the aircraft currently providing travel solutions between cities across the world.” A single-engined turboprop was cheap but could not reach Australia, he said. Passenger jets meanwhile cost “many tens of millions”.
The BFR rocket, which inside the company is known as the Big F***king Rocket, was first unveiled last year as part of Mr Musk’s grandly titled Interplanetary Transport System. Since then, he has trimmed his ambitions, scaling back the size of the rocket. But he says launch fees earned from commercial space activity, coupled with revenues from this latest plan for inter-city travel, would help defray the costs of getting to Mars.
In Adelaide, he said the BFR spaceship would have 40 cabins, carrying 100 people. The cabins would be pressurised to a greater level than an A380 passenger aircraft.
“We’ve already started building the system,” Mr Musk said. “The tooling for the main tanks has been ordered, the facility is being built, we will start construction of the first ship in around six to nine months.”