BFR is a privately funded next-generation reusable launch vehicle and spacecraft system developed by SpaceX. It was announced by Elon Musk in September 2017; the first spacecraft prototype was being manufactured as of March 2018[update] and will begin testing in early 2019. The overall space vehicle architecture includes both launch vehicles and spacecraft that are intended to completely replace all of SpaceX's existing space hardware by the early 2020s as well as ground infrastructure for rapid launch and relaunch, and zero-gravity propellant transfer technology to be deployed in low Earth orbit (LEO). The large payload to Earth orbit of up to 150,000 kg (330,000 lb) makes BFR a super heavy-lift launch vehicle.
SpaceX rendering of BFR
|Country of origin||United States|
|Cost per launch|
|Height||106 m (348 ft)|
|Diameter||9 m (30 ft)|
|Mass||4,400,000 kg (9,700,000 lb)|
|Payload to LEO||150,000 kg (330,000 lb)|
|Payload to Mars||150,000 kg (330,000 lb)|
|Payload to Earth from Mars (return)||50,000 kg (110,000 lb)|
|Launch sites||Interplanetary missions:
|First stage – Booster|
|Length||58 m (190 ft) |
|Diameter||9 m (30 ft)|
|Gross mass||3,065,000 kg (6,757,000 lb)|
|Engines||31 × Raptor|
|Thrust||52.7 MN (11,800,000 lbf) sea level |
|Specific impulse||330 s (3.2 km/s) each engine, sea level|
4 / LOX
|Second stage – Spaceship|
|Length||48 m (157 ft) |
|Diameter||9 m (30 ft)|
|Empty mass||85,000 kg (187,000 lb)|
|Gross mass||1,335,000 kg (2,943,000 lb)|
|Engines||7 × Raptor (4 × vacuum, 3 × sea level) |
|Thrust||12.7 MN (2,900,000 lbf) total|
4 / LOX
The BFR system is planned to replace the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles, as well as the Dragon spacecraft, initially aiming at the Earth-orbit launch market, but explicitly adding substantial capability to support long-duration spaceflight in the cislunar and Mars mission environments. SpaceX intends this approach to bring significant cost savings that will help the company justify the development expense of designing and building the BFR system.
SpaceX had initially envisioned a larger design known as the ITS launch vehicle for the interplanetary portion of its spaceflight ambitions. That vehicle design was presented in September 2016 as part of Musk's comprehensive vision for an interplanetary transport system (ITS). The ITS vehicles were designed with a 12-meter (39 ft) core diameter, and the BFR design was scaled down to 9 meters (30 ft). While the ITS had been solely aimed at Mars transit and other interplanetary uses, SpaceX pivoted in 2017 to a plan that would support all SpaceX launch service provider capabilities with a single set of 9-meter vehicles: Earth orbit, lunar orbit, interplanetary missions, and even intercontinental passenger transport on Earth.
Development work began in 2012 on the Raptor rocket engines which are to be used for both stages of the BFR launch vehicle, and the fully reusable vehicle will make use of reusability technology that SpaceX has been developing since 2011. Engine testing began in 2016 as new rocket engine designs typically have longer lead times than other major parts of new launch vehicles and spacecraft. As of 2018, a new facility to build the vehicles is under construction. Manufacture of the first ship was underway by March 2018 with first suborbital test flights planned for 2019. The company publicly stated an aspirational goal for initial Mars-bound cargo flights of BFR launching as early as 2022, followed by the first crewed flight to Mars one synodic period later, in 2024.
As early as 2007, Elon Musk stated a personal goal of enabling human exploration of Mars and eventually colonization of Mars, going far beyond what SpaceX projects to build alone, although his personal public interest in Mars goes back at least to 2001. Additional information about the mission architecture was released between 2011 and 2015, including a 2014 statement that the first crewed missions would arrive at Mars no earlier than the middle of the 2020s with the primary objective of building a propellant depot. Company statements in 2016 indicated that SpaceX was "being intentionally fuzzy about the timeline ... We're going to try and make as much progress as we can with a very constrained budget."
Musk also advocates for the long-term settlement of Mars; During the first stage, the goal will be to launch several BFRs to transport and assemble a propellant plant and to build up a base in preparation for an expanded surface presence. A successful colonization would ultimately involve many more economic actors—whether individuals, companies, or governments—to facilitate the growth of the human presence on Mars over many decades.
In March 2012, news accounts asserted that a Raptor upper-stage engine had begun development, although details were not released at that time. In October 2012, Musk publicly stated a high-level plan to build a second reusable rocket system with capabilities substantially beyond the Falcon 9/Falcon Heavy launch vehicles on which SpaceX had by then spent several billion US dollars. This new vehicle was to be "an evolution of SpaceX's Falcon 9 booster ... 'much bigger'." But Musk indicated that SpaceX would not be speaking publicly about it until 2013.
In June 2013, Musk stated that he intended to hold off any potential initial public offering of SpaceX shares on the stock market until after the "Mars Colonial Transporter is flying regularly."
In August 2014, media sources speculated that the initial flight test of the Raptor-driven super-heavy launch vehicle could occur as early as 2020, in order to fully test the engines under orbital spaceflight conditions; however, any colonization effort was reported to be "deep into the future".
In early 2015, Musk said that he hoped to release details in late 2015 of the "completely new architecture" for the system that would enable the colonization of Mars. Those plans were delayed, and the name of the system architecture was changed to "Interplanetary Transport System" (ITS) in mid-September 2016.
On 27 September 2016, at the 67th annual meeting of the International Astronautical Congress, Musk unveiled substantial details of the design for the transport vehicles. The details included the very large size (12 meters (39 ft) core diameter), construction material, number and type of engines, thrust, cargo and passenger payload capabilities, in-orbit propellant-tanker refills, representative transit times, and portions of the Mars-side and Earth-side infrastructure that SpaceX intends to build to support a set of three flight vehicles. The three distinct vehicles that made up the ITS launch vehicle in the 2016 design were the:
- ITS booster, the first-stage of the launch vehicle
- ITS spaceship, a second-stage and long-duration in-space spacecraft
- ITS tanker, an alternative second-stage designed to carry more propellant for refueling other vehicles in space
In addition, Musk championed a larger systemic vision, a vision for a bottom-up emergent order of other interested parties—whether companies, individuals, or governments—to utilize the new and radically lower-cost transport infrastructure that SpaceX would endeavor to build in order to help build a sustainable human civilization on Mars by innovating and meeting the demand that such a growing venture would occasion.
In the November 2016 plan, SpaceX indicated it would fly its earliest research spacecraft missions to Mars using its Falcon Heavy launch vehicle and a specialized modified Dragon spacecraft, called Red Dragon prior to the completion, and first launch, of any ITS launch vehicle. Later Mars missions using ITS were slated at that time to begin no earlier than 2022. Those plans later changed, initially with a February 2017 announcement that no SpaceX Mars mission would occur before 2020, two years later than the previously mentioned 2018 Falcon Heavy/Dragon2 exploratory mission, and then, in July 2017, by dropping the plan to use a soft lander Red Dragon spacecraft entirely.
In July 2017, SpaceX made public its plan to build a much smaller launch vehicle and spacecraft before building the ITS launch vehicle that had been unveiled nine months earlier designed explicitly for the beyond-Earth-orbit (BEO) part of future SpaceX launch service offerings. Musk indicated that the architecture had "evolved quite a bit" since the November 2016 articulation of the comprehensive Mars architecture. A key driver of the new architecture was to be making the new system useful for substantial Earth-orbit and cislunar launches so that the new system might pay for itself, in part, through economic spaceflight activities in the near-Earth space zone. ITS development was put on hold and "Serious development of BFR" began in 2017.:15:22
On 29 September 2017 at the 68th annual meeting of the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, South Australia, SpaceX unveiled the new smaller vehicle architecture. Musk said "we are searching for the right name, but the code name, at least, is BFR." The new launch vehicle system is a 9-meter (30 ft) diameter technology, using methalox-fueled Raptor rocket engine technology directed initially at the Earth-orbit and cislunar environment, later, being used for Mars missions.
Aerodynamics of the BFR second stage changed from the 2016-design ITS launch vehicle. The new design is cylindrical with a small delta wing at the rear end which includes a split flap for pitch and roll control. The delta wing and split flaps are needed to expand the mission envelope to allow the ship to land in a variety of atmospheric densities (no, thin, or heavy atmosphere) with a wide range of payloads (small, heavy, or none) in the nose of the ship.:18:05–19:25 The cylindrical shape is for mass optimization.
There are three versions of the ship: BFR cargo, BFR tanker, and BFR crew. The cargo version will be used to launch satellites to low Earth orbit—delivering "significantly more satellites at a time than anything that has been done before"—as well as for cargo transport to the Moon and Mars.
After retanking in a high-elliptic Earth orbit the spaceship is being designed to be able to land on the Moon and return to Earth without further refueling.:31:50 Alternatively, the BFR system would have the capability to carry passengers and cargo in rapid Earth-to-Earth transport.
As of September 2017[update], Raptor engines had been tested for a combined total of 1200 seconds of test firing time over 42 main engine tests. The longest test was 100 seconds, which is limited by the size of the propellant tanks at the SpaceX ground test facility. The test engine operates at 20 MPa (200 bar; 2,900 psi) pressure. The flight engine is aimed for 25 MPa (250 bar; 3,600 psi), and SpaceX expects to achieve 30 MPa (300 bar; 4,400 psi) in later iterations.
The aspirational goal is to send the first two cargo missions to Mars in 2022, with the goal to "confirm water resources and identify hazards" while putting "power, mining, and life support infrastructure" in place for future flights, followed by four ships in 2024, two crewed BFR spaceships plus two cargo-only ships bringing additional equipment and supplies with the goal of setting up the propellant production plant.
Construction and testingEdit
SpaceX was working on manufacturing facility locations to build the large rocket by 2015, with locations being investigated in California, Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. By September 2017, SpaceX had already started building launch vehicle components. "The tooling for the main tanks has been ordered, the facility is being built, we will start construction of the first ship [in the second quarter of 2018.]" Musk is hoping to be ready for an initial Mars launch in five years, in order to make the 2022 Mars conjunction window. In November 2017, SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell indicated that approximately half of all current development work on BFR is on Raptor engine development. Testing of the BFR vehicle is expected to begin with short suborbital hops of the full-scale ship, likely to be just a few hundred kilometers altitude and lateral distance. Hops of the upper stage spaceship (BFS) might be conducted from the SpaceX South Texas Launch Site that is currently under construction near Brownsville, Texas, or from drone ship to drone ship.
In March 2018, Musk stated that "construction of the first prototype spaceship is in progress" and that initial suborbital test flights were possible as early as 2019. By April, formal approval of the new manufacturing facility at the Port of Los Angeles was given and 40 SpaceX employees were working on the design and construction of BFR. Over time, the project is expected to have 700 technical jobs. The facility is expected to be a 203,500-square-foot (18,910 m2) prefabricated building that would be 105 feet (32 m) tall.
The descriptor for the large SpaceX Mars rocket has varied over the past five years that SpaceX has publicly released information about the project. "BFR" is the current code name for SpaceX's privately funded launch vehicle announced by Elon Musk in September 2017. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell has stated that BFR stands for "Big Falcon Rocket". However, Elon Musk has explained that although BFR is the official name, he drew inspiration from the BFG weapon in the Doom video games. The BFR has been referred to informally by the media and internally at SpaceX as "Big Fucking Rocket".
From September 2016 through August 2017, the overall system was referred to by SpaceX as the Interplanetary Transport System and the very large 12-meter-diameter (39 ft) launch vehicle itself as the ITS launch vehicle. Beginning in mid-2013, and prior to September 2016, SpaceX had referred to both the architecture and the vehicle as the Mars Colonial Transporter.
Scope of BFR missionsEdit
The BFR launch vehicle is planned to replace all existing SpaceX vehicles and spacecraft in the early 2020s. SpaceX cost estimation has led the company to conclude that BFR launches will be cheaper per launch than launches of the existing vehicles and even cheaper than launches of the retired Falcon 1. This is partly due to the full reusability of all parts of BFR, and partly due to precision landing of the booster on its launch mount and industry-leading launch operations. More specifically, both Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles and the Dragon spacecraft will all be replaced in the operational SpaceX fleet during the early 2020s.:24:50–27:05
Flight missions of BFR will thus aim at the:
- legacy Earth-orbit market
- long-duration spaceflight missions in the cislunar region
- Mars missions, both as cargo ships as well as passenger-carrying transport
- Missions to the outer planets, both as cargo ships and passenger-carrying transport
- long-distance commercial travel on Earth: the ability to transport people on point-to-point suborbital flights between two points on Earth in under one hour. Musk refers to this as "Earth-to-Earth".
The BFR design combines several elements that, according to Musk, will make long-duration, beyond Earth orbit (BEO) spaceflights possible. They will reduce the per-ton cost of launches to low Earth orbit (LEO) and of transportation between BEO destinations. They will also serve all usage for the conventional LEO market. This will allow SpaceX to focus the majority of their development resources on the next-generation launch vehicle.
- "BFR booster": a reusable booster stage.
- a reusable, integrated second-stage-with-spaceship, which will be built in at least three versions:
- "BFR spaceship": a large, long-duration spaceship capable of carrying passengers or cargo to interplanetary destinations, to LEO, or between destinations on Earth.
- "BFR tanker": an Earth-orbit, cargo-only propellant tanker to support the refilling of propellants in orbit. The tanker will enable launching a large spacecraft to interplanetary space as the spacecraft can use its tanks twice, first to reach LEO and afterwards to leave Earth orbit. This design reaches a Delta-v similar to three-stage rockets without needing the corresponding large mass fractions.
- "BFR satellite delivery spacecraft": will have a large cargo bay door that can open in space to facilitate the placement of spacecraft into orbit.
Combining the second-stage of a launch vehicle with a long-duration spaceship will be a unique type of space mission architecture. This architecture is dependent on the successful refilling of propellants in orbit.
The BFR spaceship, the BFR tanker, and the BFR satellite delivery spacecraft will have the same outer mold line. The second-stage-spaceship will be capable of returning to the launch location. While returning, it will be able to tolerate multiple engine-out events and land successfully with just one operating engine.
The functioning of the system during BEO launches to Mars will include propellant production on the Mars surface. This is necessary for the return trip and to reuse the spaceship at a minimal cost. Lunar destinations will be possible without Lunar-propellant depots, so long as the spaceship is refueled in a high-elliptical orbit before the Lunar transit begins.
- Both stages will be completely reusable.
- The booster will return to land on the launch mount. The second-stage/spaceship will have the ability to return to near the launch mount. Both will use retropropulsive landing and the reusable LV technologies developed earlier by SpaceX.
- The expected landing reliability will be on a par with major airliners.
- Rendezvous and docking will be automated.
- There will be on-orbit propellant transfers from BFR tankers to BFR spaceships.
- A spaceship and its payload will be able to transit to the Moon or fly to Mars after on-orbit propellant loading.
- Heat-shields will be reusable.
- The BFR spaceship will have a pressurized volume of 825 m3 (29,100 cu ft), with up to 40 cabins, large common areas, central storage, a galley, and a solar storm shelter for Mars missions.
|Complete||BFR booster||BFR spaceship/tanker/
|LEO Payload||150,000 kg (330,000 lb)|
|Return Payload||50,000 kg (110,000 lb)|
|Cargo Volume||825 m3 (29,100 cu ft)||N/A||825 m3 (29,100 cu ft)
|Diameter||9 m (30 ft)|
|Length||106 m (348 ft)||58 m (190 ft)||48 m (157 ft)|
|Maximum weight||4,400,000 kg (9,700,000 lb)||1,335,000 kg (2,943,000 lb)
4 – 240,000 kg (530,000 lb)
2 – 860,000 kg (1,900,000 lb)
|Empty weight||85,000 kg (187,000 lb)|
|Engines||31 × SL Raptors||3 × SL + 4 × vacuum Raptors|
|Thrust||52.7 MN (11,800,000 lbf)||12.7 MN (2,900,000 lbf) total|
The Raptor engine will operate at 25 MPa (250 bar; 3,600 psi) of chamber pressure and achieve 30 MPa (300 bar; 4,400 psi) in later iterations. The engine will be designed with an extreme focus on reliability for any single engine; since "[the ship] can land with either of two engines, [the ship can achieve] landing reliability that is on par with the safest commercial airliners."
Manufacturing the BFREdit
Construction of the initial BFR vehicle will be in a new factory to be built on the Los Angeles waterfront in the San Pedro area. The fully assembled launch vehicle will be "transported by barge, through the Panama Canal, to Cape Canaveral in Florida for launch."
In March 2018, SpaceX indicated that it would manufacture its next-generation, 9-meter-diameter (30 ft) launch vehicle and spaceship at a new facility the company will construct in 2018–2019 on Seaside Drive near Berth 240. The company has leased an 18-acre site for 10 years, with multiple renewals possible, and will use the site for manufacturing, recovery from shipborne landings, and refurbishment of both the BFR booster and the BFR spaceship. Final approval of the new manufacturing facility came from the Board of Harbor Commissioners in April 2018, and the Los Angeles City Council in May.
- Elon Musk (29 September 2017). Becoming a Multiplanet Species (video). 68th annual meeting of the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia: SpaceX. Retrieved 14 December 2017 – via YouTube.
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Construction of the first prototype spaceship is in progress. 'We’re actually building that ship right now,' he said. 'I think we’ll probably be able to do short flights, short sort of up-and-down flights, probably sometime in the first half of next year.'
- SpaceX Aims to Begin BFR Spaceship Flight Tests as Soon as Next Year. Jay Bennett, Popular Mechanics. 7 February 2018.
- Jeff Foust (15 October 2017). "Musk offers more technical details on BFR system". SpaceNews. Retrieved 15 October 2017.
[Musk] added that, since the presentation last month, SpaceX has revised the design of the BFR spaceship to add a "medium area ratio" Raptor engine to its original complement of two engines with sea-level nozzles and four with vacuum nozzles. That additional engine helps enable that engine-out capability ... and will "allow landings with higher payload mass for the Earth to Earth transport function."
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The new rocket is still known as the BFR, a euphemism for 'Big (fill-in-the-blank) Rocket.' The reusable BFR will use 31 Raptor engines burning densified, or super-cooled, liquid methane and liquid oxygen to lift 150 tons, or 300,000 pounds, to low Earth orbit, roughly equivalent to NASA’s Saturn 5 moon rocket.
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Musk stated it's possible that the first spaceship would be ready for tests in four years, with the booster ready a few years after that, but he shied away from exact schedules in his presentation. 'We're kind of being intentionally fuzzy about the timeline,' he said. 'We're going to try and make as much progress as we can with a very constrained budget.'
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SpaceX is in the midst of a variety of ambitious engine programmes, including the Merlin 2, a significant modification of the Merlin 1 series, and the Raptor upper stage engine. Details of both projects are tightly held.
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The fully reusable rocket that Musk wants to take colonists to Mars is an evolution of SpaceX's Falcon 9 booster.... 'It's going to be much bigger [than Falcon 9], but I don’t think we’re quite ready to state the payload. We’ll speak about that next year,' Musk said. ... 'Vertical landing is an extremely important breakthrough — extreme, rapid reusability.'
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The Mars transport system will be a completely new architecture. Am hoping to present that towards the end of this year. Good thing we didn't do it sooner, as we have learned a huge amount from Falcon and Dragon.
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We'll have the next generation rocket and spacecraft, beyond the Falcon and Dragon series... I'm hoping to describe that architecture later this year at the International Astronautical Congress. which is the big international space event every year. ... first flights to Mars? we're hoping to do that in around 2025 ... nine years from now or thereabouts.
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the updated version of the Mars architecture: Because it has evolved quite a bit since that last talk. ... The key thing that I figured out is how do you pay for it? If we downsize the Mars vehicle, make it capable of doing Earth-orbit activity as well as Mars activity, maybe we can pay for it by using it for Earth-orbit activity. That is one of the key elements in the new architecture. It is similar to what was shown at IAC, but a little bit smaller. Still big, but this one has a shot at being real on the economic front.
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Shotwell estimated that around 50 percent of the work on BFR is focused on the Raptor engines.
- Jeff Foust (15 October 2017). "Musk offers more technical details on BFR system". SpaceNews. Retrieved 15 October 2017.
[The] spaceship portion of the BFR, which would transport people on point-to-point suborbital flights or on missions to the moon or Mars, will be tested on Earth first in a series of short hops. ... a full-scale Ship doing short hops of a few hundred kilometers altitude and lateral distance ... fairly easy on the vehicle, as no heat shield is needed, we can have a large amount of reserve propellant and don’t need the high area ratio, deep space Raptor engines.
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SpaceX would build a huge rocket: the BFR, or Big Falcon Rocket—or, more crudely among staff, the Big Fucking Rocket
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In a move that would have seemed crazy a few years ago, Mr. Musk stated that the goal of BFR is to make the Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy rockets and their crew/uncrewed Dragon spacecrafts redundant, thereby allowing the company to shift all resources and funding allocations from those vehicles to BFR. Making the Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, and Dragon redundant would also allow BFR to perform the same Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and Beyond LEO satellite deployment missions as Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy – just on a more economical scale as multiple satellites would be able to launch at the same time and on the same rocket thanks to BFR’s immense size.
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- Elon Musk [@elonmusk] (12 May 2018). "SpaceX will prob build 30 to 40 rocket cores for ~300 missions over 5 years. Then BFR takes over & Falcon retires. Goal of BFR is to enable anyone to move to moon, Mars & eventually outer planets" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
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- Neil Strauss (15 November 2017). "Elon Musk: The Architect of Tomorrow". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 17 February 2018.
- Elon Musk (27 September 2016). Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species (video). Guadalajara, Mexico: SpaceX. Event occurs at 9:20–10:10. Retrieved 10 October 2016.
So it is a bit tricky. Because we have to figure out how to improve the cost of the trips to Mars by five million percent ... [which] translates to an improvement of approximately 4 1/2 orders of magnitude. These are the key elements that are needed ... to achieve ...[this] improvement. Most of the improvement would come from full reusability—somewhere between 2 and 2 1/2 orders of magnitude—and then the other 2 orders of magnitude would come from refilling in orbit, propellant production on Mars, and choosing the right propellant.
- Jeff Foust (15 October 2017). "Musk offers more technical details on BFR system". SpaceNews. Retrieved 15 October 2017.
[Musk wrote,] "The flight engine design is much lighter and tighter, and is extremely focused on reliability."
- "Fireside Chat with SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell". Flickr.com. 11 October 2017. Retrieved 7 March 2018.
- Seemangal, Robin (1 February 2018). "SpaceX Gears Up to Finally, Actually Launch the Falcon Heavy". Wired. Retrieved 7 March 2018.
SpaceX is actively considering expanding its San Pedro, California facility to begin manufacturing its interplanetary spacecraft. This would allow SpaceX to easily shift personnel from headquarters in Hawthorne.
- Berger, Eric (19 March 2018). "SpaceX indicates it will manufacture the BFR rocket in Los Angeles". Ars Technica. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
- Masunaga, Samantha (8 May 2018). "All systems are go for SpaceX's BFR rocket facility at Port of Los Angeles after City Council OKs plan". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 24 May 2018.
- "Becoming A Multiplanet Species" (PDF). SpaceX. 15 October 2017. 39-page slide deck of graphics, charts and images.