Update: SpaceX has announced Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa will fly around the moon on the BFR, along with six to eight artists. Read the full story here.
It's going to be a big night for space tourism. The private spaceflight company SpaceX will reveal its first passenger for a trip around the moon on the company's massive BFR rocket and you can watch it all live online. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has even dropped tantalizing previews of the BFR's new rocket design on Twitter.
SpaceX will unveil its BFR rocket passenger (the name stands for Big Falcon Rocket) in a webcast tonight (Sept. 17) at its Hawthorne, California headquarters. You can watch it live here, courtesy of SpaceX, beginning at 9 p.m. EDT (0100 Sept. 18 GMT).
The highlight anticipated reveal comes on the heels of SpaceX's surprise announcement late Thursday (Sept. 13) that it had signed its first passenger to fly around the moon on its BFR spaceship. The company has dubbed the flight the "BFR Lunar Mission." [The BFR in Images: SpaceX's Giant Spaceship for Mars & Beyond]
"SpaceX has signed the world's first private passenger to fly around the Moon aboard our BFR launch vehicle—an important step toward enabling access for everyday people who dream of traveling to space," SpaceX representatives announced on Twitter Thursday. "Find out who’s flying and why on Monday, September 17."
Musk, SpaceX's founder, has been dropping more clues about the passenger's identity and the BFR's new design ever since.
In a pair of early-morning Twitter posts today, Musk unveiled new artist renderings of the BFR spacecraft. The images appear to confirm changes to BFR's crewed spaceship, including three huge fins and a black, belly-mounted heat shield. The spacecraft will also feature a deployable "forward moving wing" near its nose, according to Musk.
Late Thursday, Musk also dropped a hint of where SpaceX's BFR passenger may be from when he posted a single Japanese flag emoji on Twitter. Whoever the passenger is, it's a good bet he or she will be extremely wealthy. Trips to the International Space Station have cost upwards of $35 million for space tourists, and SpaceX's moon shot is aiming much higher.
"Only 24 humans have been to the Moon in history. No one has visited since the last Apollo mission in 1972," they added. That last NASA Apollo moon mission was Apollo 17 in December 1972.
And then there's the rocket.
Musk first unveiled SpaceX's BFR launch system in 2016 as the dedicated spacecraft and booster it will use launch the people and cargo needed to build a Mars colony. In 2017, Musk refined those plans with a leaner BFR spacecraft and booster, but the essence of the design —a giant spaceship capable of flying 100 people and a booster to launch it into orbit —remained the same. BFR also has another nickname at SpaceX, the not-safe-for-work Big F****** Rocket.
Musk has said he hopes BFR could be ready for an unpiloted trip to Mars in 2022, with a crewed flight to follow in 2024.
Musk has also said the BFR launch system would ultimately replace SpaceX's Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. It will be able to launch up to 150 tons to low-Earth orbit (more than NASA's Saturn V moon rocket), fly to the moon, Mars or other destinations, and even fly passenger trips around Earth, Musk has said.
As you await SpaceX's big announcement tonight, do remember that the company has made an announcement like this before.
In 2017, Musk announced that SpaceX would launch two passengers around the moon as early as this year using its heavy-lift Falcon Heavy rocket and crewed Dragon spacecraft. But when SpaceX launched its first Falcon Heavy flight in February, Musk said those plans had changed and SpaceX would not pursue a crewed version of the Falcon Heavy rocket. [The Evolution of SpaceX's Rockets in Pictures]
Instead, the company would focus on the BFR for future flights. In May, SpaceX confirmed it would not be flying its passenger moon flight this year to the Washington Post.
Still, the BFR still has a long way to go before it can launch its passenger around the moon.
Musk has said the crewed spacecraft could potentially begin making unpiloted suborbital test hops at SpaceX's rocket proving grounds in Texas in 2019. The company might base those tests at its newest site near Brownsville, Texas, which has a lot of empty space in case of a failure, Musk has said.
And of course, SpaceX still has to actually build the BFR. Earlier this year, the company signed a deal with the Port of Los Angeles for space to build a facility to build its BFR rockets.
But who will fly on the first BFR passenger flight around the moon? And how has the massive spacecraft's design changed since last year? We'll have to wait until tonight to find those out.
Visit Space.com tonight for complete coverage of SpaceX's BFR moon shot announcement.