Ryan is a student at Drexel University studying Mechanical Engineering with concentrations in Aerospace and Energy, and Systems Engineering.
Falcon 9's Successor, the Big F****** Rocket
SpaceX’s Elon Musk impressed millions when he sent his Falcon Heavy rocket into space with a Tesla attached to the front, and has shown no signs of slowing down the enthusiasm for his company. His main effort is to put mankind on Mars, and he knows that to do this, he will need a larger spaceship than ever before. This is where the Big Falcon Rocket, or BFR, comes in. It’s ultimate mission is not just to provide a transport to the Red Planet, but to do so faster, safer, and in more relative comfort than was granted to astronauts before. This rocket has to be reusable, as to provide a means for cheaper space travel that putting mankind on Mars will certainly promote.
This is necessary because the largest hindrance of any organization, whether in the government sector or private sector, that seeks to develop spacecraft, is the cost to launch things to space. Fuel is expensive, making rockets even more so. In order to move forward in the aerospace and aeronautical field, reusable rockets are not only important but required. Additionally, if mankind is to expand to other planets, or the moon, people will undoubtedly be keen on staying, as most clearly seen with NASA's Artemis Mission program. If new rockets had to be built every time supplies, equipment, and personnel were sent to the moon, the cost of such a project would be many times higher. Reusable rockets reduces the cost drastically for every mission after the first.
The BFR, which also stands for, amongst those working on the project closest, Big F****** Rocket, was designed and is being made to fulfill the need of extraterrestrial travel. It is over 100 feet taller than the Falcon 9, over twice as large of a diameter, and over 8 times heavier. On a scale of reusability, Falcon 9 was able to reuse 30 percent of its components, where the BFR proudly claims to have 100 percent reusability. The Systems Engineering Method that was used was revolutionary when it came to reusability. This approach that prioritized being able to recycle rockets was new to the field, and while it was almost certainly looked at in the past, it was never deemed as important until now. Additionally, new propellant was considered for the rockets - they now use methane due to its availability to be harvested on Mars. This is also revolutionary, in two distinct ways.
The first way is that the rocket is intended on going to a destination (Mars) and staying there to collect fuel for a return journey. In the past, shuttles to the moon were sent with enough fuel to make it to the moon and back, which added lots of weight and lots of money to the design. This approach scales down how much fuel is needed, and allows the rocket to be lighter than it would have been if the fuel was intended for a return journey as well. The second new concept is the materials/fuel used. Methane is a combination of water and carbon dioxide (plus heat) so the rockets will not be using the tried-and-true method of liquid hydrogen. This is a prime example of in-situ resource utilization, where astronauts would use the resources naturally available at their destination, instead of bringing those resources from Earth. It reduces weight, and cost with it. That being said, methane would not be able to be harvested on the moon, as the Carbon Dioxide required for the chemical process is not present. The BFR is designed for Mars, and will have limited use for lunar travel.
Overall, from the design to the implementation of technology, the BFR is a massively superior project to its predecessors. Only time will tell how much of an impact it will have not only on the aerospace industry, but humanity as a whole. As Elon Musk himself said, "You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great - and that's what being a spacefaring civilization is all about. It's about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past. And I can't think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars".