One of the most intriguing aspects of SpaceX’s #Elon Musks vision of the future that he laid out during a recent conference in Australia was the idea of point to point travel using the BFR launch vehicle on Earth. What would such travel be like? Is it even possible or financially feasible?

New York to Shanghai in 39 minutes

According to Musk, sometime in the future, you will be able to take a ferry out to an offshore rocket port, board a suborbital version of the BFR, and be zoomed to another destination on Earth. You would land at another offshore rocket port and then take a ferry to your destination. Musk claims that his #Rocket Ship can take people from #New York to Shanghai in 39 minutes.

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The experience would be a little different from airline travel. You would be strapped into a seat, just like an astronaut, and would spend your brief time being subjected to two or three Gs of acceleration followed by deceleration with perhaps a short period of microgravity in-between. Musk claims that the G-forces are about the same as experienced on a theme park ride. You would not get drinks service, though perhaps you might be well advised to take some motion sickness medicine. The sudden change in time zones might cause some “rocket flag” as well. The trip time, adding in the ferry ride, security checks, and waiting on the pad would be a little longer than 39 minutes.

Would rockets work for commercial travel?

Naturally, the question arises, would the use of rockets for commercial travel work? Jets work for air travel because, with sensible maintenance, airliners can fly thousands of times during their operational lifespans.

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Rockets have proven a little more resistant to being made reusable, though Musk has made great strides toward making that happen by landing and reusing the first stage of the Falcon 9. However, a difference exists between reusing a rocket ten or twenty times and doing so thousands of times.

Musk also claims that a ticket on his rocket ship would be comparable to one on a similar flight on a conventional airliner. Whether there is any truth to the claim depends on how many people will be willing to be blasted to distant destinations on top of a rocket and how often Musk can launch his suborbital ships. The more individuals who choose to travel by rocket ship, the lower the cost of a ticket will be. Initially, service, one suspects, will find a more expensive, niche market of business travelers willing to pay a premium to get halfway around the world sooner rather than later. Whether that market could expand to accommodate the casual traveler remains to be seen.