Before the 68th International Aeronautical Congress, Elon Musk delivered some bold predictions for his aeronautics company SpaceX: a massive new rocket that could put a satellite ten times the size of Hubble into space, a base on the moon, and two manned missions to Mars by 2024 to find a water source and build a rocket refuelling depot. He capped off his presentation with a curveball -- using rockets to take passengers on Earth to elsewhere on Earth.
Using SpaceX's upcoming, unnamed, and very big rocket (fittingly code named the "Big F**king Rocket"), Musk estimates a journey from anywhere to anywhere else on the only planet currently hosting human life would take under an hour. For contrast, a flight on a commercial airliner from New York to Australia is something in the realm of 23 hours.
How does it work? It doesn't exist yet, but Musk showed a rendered video depicting silhouettes boarding a ship (the regular, sea-faring kind) which takes them a little way out into a body of water where the future people disembark to a waiting SpaceX launch platform. The people-missile zips into a low earth orbit at 28,968km per hour, the booster rocket does an about-face at the apex, and the nose section sets down in Shanghai. Huh.
The major distinction between SpaceX and its competitors is cost. Musk knows how to launch a rocket economically, but we're still describing the act of sending a ship through Earth's atmosphere for tens of millions per launch. Granted the BFR doesn't exist yet, but the company's own, likely conservative estimates for the Falcon Heavy place a flight at around $120 million.
How could this ever be made affordable? Maybe the buried lead is that SpaceX will also bring about the post-scarcity Star Trek economy.
Yes, there's an irony that "build a base on the moon" feels more plausible than "also, go between major transportation hubs, only a lot faster." We've reached out to Musk for details on what we can only imagine is a tentative plan.