SpaceX building BFR at Port of Los Angeles
The location where SpaceX intends to build its newest and biggest rocket, code-named Big Falcon Rocket or BFR, has been revealed. On April 19, 2018, the Los Angeles board of harbor commissioners unanimously approved the Hawthorne, California-based company’s use of the Port of Los Angeles for building the super-heavy-lift vehicle.
“Officially announcing that @SpaceX will start production development of the Big Falcon Rocket in the @PortofLA!” tweeted Eric Garcetti, the Mayor of Los Angeles. “This vehicle holds the promise of taking humanity deeper into the cosmos than ever before.”
Due to the size of the vehicle, which is 30 feet (nine meters) wide, it will need to be transported to launch and test facilities by barge. In the case of transporting BFR stages to launch sites in Texas and Florida, they would likely need to travel through the Panama Canal to reach their destinations rather than over land via truck, as is the case with Falcon 9 stages.
The port is already home to SpaceX’s Pacific recovery operations. Both the drone ship “Just Read the Instructions” and the fairing recover ship “Mr. Steven” operate from the port as well as all the support vessels SpaceX uses for that coast, including vehicles used to recover Dragon cargo capsules after their International Space Station resupply missions are completed.
The company is expanding its Port of Los Angeles footprint, taking over a 19-acre site at the former Southwest Marine Shipyard.
The Port of Los Angeles sits 20 miles (32 kilometers) from downtown and occupies over 43 miles (69 kilometers) of waterfront. The port itself sits on 7,500 acres of land and processes over $272 billion of cargo every year. The land that SpaceX has chosen to use has sat empty for a number of years.
The BFR is expected to be a two-stage, fully-reusable launch system. SpaceX’s Elon Musk said during a presentation at the 68th International Astronautical Congress in September 2017 that the vehicle would be 348 feet (106 meters) tall and 30 feet (nine meters) wide. This was a scaled-down version of an earlier design that was unveiled the year before.
The first stage, the “booster,” would itself be 190 feet (58 meters) tall and be powered by 31 liquid methane/liquid oxygen-consuming Raptor engines that the company is currently developing. It’s overall liftoff thrust, Musk said, would be 11.8 million pounds (52,700 kilonewtons).
Simply called, the “spaceship,” the 157-foot (48-meter) long second stage would go all the way to orbit via seven Raptor engines. It’s total thrust would be 2.9 million pounds (12,700 kilonewtons). The spaceship, as its name implies, would double as a multi-purpose spacecraft. Both it and the booster are expected to be constructed using a carbon fiber material.
Musk said the spaceship, sometimes simply referred to as BFS or Big Falcon Spaceship, could be used for sending cargo and people to the Moon and Mars—with the help of on-orbit refueling—or send multiple large satellites into orbit. In total, the BFR system is expected to be able to deliver up to 330,000 pounds (150,000 kilograms) into a low-Earth orbit in a fully-reusable configuration.
Additionally, Musk said the BFR could be used for point-to-point transportation on Earth, claiming the vehicle could travel to anywhere on under 90 minutes via sub-orbital flights.
Recently on twitter, Musk showed off the first tooling equipment of the new BFR while touting his new Model 3 sedan from his other company Tesla. That along with recent testing of a carbon fiber cryogenic tank and ongoing Raptor engine testing, Musk said he believes the first test flights of the BFS could begin as soon as 2019, albeit via short hopes similar to SpaceX’s Grasshopper program when the company was first testing hardware and software that would ultimately be used to recover Falcon 9 first stages.
SpaceX’s carbon fiber build tool for the BFR and BFS. Photo Credit: Elon Musk