Science & Technology



Book the next rocket to New York? What it'll take to realize Elon Musk's bizarre travel plan

Samantha Masunaga, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk envisions a time in the near future when long-distance travelers on Earth can hop on a rocket to go across the globe in less than an hour.

But before Musk can set his plans in motion, there are a few down-to-Earth logistics questions he'll have to answer first.

Under the plan announced last week by Musk, passengers would board a large rocket and spacecraft system known for now as BFR. The rocket would hurtle passengers into space, before the first-stage booster returns to Earth and the spacecraft and second-stage continues on to touch down at its destination.

A video Musk showed during his keynote speech at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, said the maximum speed of the vehicle would be about 16,000 mph. That would make a trip from New York to Shanghai as short as 39 minutes.

Questions remain about some technical details of the transport system, as well as what kind of market it would serve. But several analysts said Musk's vision at least forces people to think out of the box about supersonic or hypersonic passenger travel. (Supersonic flight is anything faster than the speed of sound, or Mach 1; hypersonic is generally regarded as Mach 5 or faster.)

Musk's ideas, and the actions behind his ideas, broaden minds about the "future of movement," said Megan Ryerson, an assistant professor of city and regional planning and electrical and systems engineering at the University of Pennsylvania.

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"And I think that is exciting, even if there are a lot of kinks to work out," she said.

Here are some of those considerations.

The sonic boom that ripples outward after the first-stage booster lands would probably force the takeoff and landing areas to be several hours outside of major metropolitan areas the system is intended to serve.

That could make travelers think twice about whether a rocket trip would be worth it. The video shown by Musk at last week's space conference depicts a group of passengers boarding a speedy ship to reach a floating platform with the rocket far off the coast of New York City.


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