Here's a look at Elon Musk's 'final iteration' of SpaceX's biggest and most powerful rocket ship

HAWTHORNE, California – Elon Musk has finally revealed the person who is paying SpaceX untold millions to have the rocket company launch a private mission around the moon.

Yasuka Maezawa, or “MZ” as SpaceX‘s newest benefactor prefers to be called, is a Japanese entrepreneur, art collector, billionaire, and skateboarder who made his fortune in the fashion industry over the past 20 years.

In 2023, Maezawa hopes to pile six to eight artists inside SpaceX’s giant new launch system called BFR, which stands for Big Falcon Rocket (or, as Musk has described it, Big F—ing rocket). They’d then launch from Earth and voyage around the moon on a trip that would take about six days.

Maezawa’s goal with the mission, which he’s titled #dearMoon, is to spread messages of art and peace in both space and on Earth.

Although Maezawa’s announcement surprised many people inside SpaceX’s rocket factory on Monday night, new images and information about the BFR that Musk shared raised even more eyebrows.

“This is the final iteration, in terms of broad architectural design,” Musk told roughly 100 reporters during the press event.

Here are the latest BFR pictures Musk showed, how the in-development spacecraft has changed, and why tweaks that SpaceX engineers made are so important for the company’s ultimate goal of colonizing Mars.


Before and after Maezawa’s moon mission announcement, Musk shared new images and details of the Big Falcon Rocket like this one.

SpaceX/TwitterSpaceX’s rendering of a Big Falcon Rocket spaceship carrying a passenger around the moon.

Musk first publicly discussed the BFR system during a September 2016 presentation to the International Astronautical Congress. However, he has changed the spacecraft’s design every year.

Source: Business Insider


This year was no different, though Musk called the new BFR “the final iteration” of the design.

SpaceX

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The new BFR grew nearly four stories: from 348 feet tall to 387 feet tall. However, it’s still designed to haul about 100 tons of cargo into orbit the same.

SpaceX

Musk said the booster is mostly unchanged, but noted the spaceship saw significant revisions compared to the version he presented in 2017 (shown here).

Mike Brake/Getty ImagesMusk speaks at the International Astronautical Congress on September 29, 2017 in Adelaide, Australia.

This is an illustration of the 2018 version of the vehicle, which Musk sometimes calls the Big Falcon Spaceship.


Instead of one “delta wing” on its side, the new spaceship (which rides atop the booster) has three larger wings.

Elon Musk/SpaceX via Twitter; Business Insider

Source: Business Insider


The wings will not only help a BFR spaceship fly through the air on Earth and Mars, Musk said, but also serve as landing pads. That’s a big change compared to previous designs, which showed pop-out landing legs. The 2018 spaceship can also store a double decker bus’ worth of cargo on the bottom for easier access after landing.

SpaceX

SpaceX engineers redesigned the spaceship’s nose and added pop-out “forward fins.” The fins will help steer, slow, and stabilise the BFR spaceship while its careens through planetary atmospheres.

SpaceX

A heat shield lining the bottom will help deflect and absorb the scorching heat of atmospheric reentry, as with previous designs.

SpaceX

Once it has slowed down enough, the spaceship will begin to fire its engines to a soft landing.

SpaceX

The scale of the ship is enormous. This photo shows an outline of its bottom, and it dwarfs nearby journalists and SpaceX employees attending Maezawa’s moon-mission announcement.


But the BFR is not a figment of Musk’s imagination. Parts for the first prototypes are coming to life inside a 20,000-square-foot tent built by SpaceX at the Port of Los Angeles.

SpaceX

Source: Business Insider


Cylindrical sections are made out of carbon-fibre composites inside the tent — at least until the company finishes a larger, more capable, and permanent facility. This photograph shows a roughly 30-foot-diameter tool in the tent that SpaceX is using to build its BFR sections.

Source: Business Insider


The parts are enormous, as Maezawa demonstrates in this photo.


Once the tool is wrapped in carbon-fibre composites and cured with heat, it hardens. Workers then loosen or disassemble the tool to free a carbon-fibre barrel section on the outside.

SpaceX

Source: Business Insider


Perhaps most importantly, Musk said, SpaceX built and tested a full-scale Raptor rocket engine for the BFR. Without the engines, the spacecraft couldn’t fly.

SpaceX

The timeline for sending Maezawa around the moon begins in 2023, though Musk said “it’s not 100% certain that we succeed in getting this to flight.” And he means not just the moon mission, but the entire BFR system SpaceX is designing.

SpaceX

If all goes according to plan, though, Maezawa and his Bohemian spaceship crew will get into orbit and then fire off around the moon to make art.

SpaceX

This imaginative rendering shows a spacious window that Musk originally had on the BFR in a 2016 presentation but reduced in 2017. It’s now back.

SpaceX

Sources: Business Insider (1,2)


Ultimately, SpaceX hopes to use BFR to send the first crews to Mars, perhaps as soon as 2024, and Musk says Maezawa is helping power that development effort. “He’s paying a lot of money that would help with the ship and its booster,” Musk said. “He’s ultimately paying for the average citizen to travel to other planets.”

ISRO/ISSDC/Emily Lakdawalla (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)A photo illustration of the red planet using imagery taken by the Mars Orbiter Mission.

Source: Business Insider

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