Paris-New York or Washington-Kabul in less than an hour, SpaceX’s other military and commercial dream

“Imagine sending the equivalent of a military cargo plane anywhere on the planet in less than an hour. » During a conference in October 2020, General Stephen R. Lyons, commander of the US Army logistics unit USTransCom, summed up the ambition of a new kind of project: using rockets to transport equipment or soldiers on Earth…

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Looks straight out of the sci-fi movie Iron Man, this hypothesis is however well studied by the American military: the USTransCom launched, in 2020, a study protocol with two companies, including SpaceX, the powerful manufacturer of rockets of Elon Musk. Three more have since been signed, including with Blue Origin, the space group of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

In June 2021, President Joe Biden’s administration went one better with “Rocket Cargo”, a similar rocket transport program, launched by the US Space Force and the US Air Force. “This interesting and intriguing idea has been around since the dawn of spaceflight. But what has changed is the emergence of much larger and cheaper commercial rockets,” explained its leader, quoted by the site SpaceNews. SpaceX is once again in the front row to participate in future studies and tests.

“Rapid Reaction Force”

What could such rocket flights be used for? In a progress report published by the media The Intercept, USTransCom imagines three scenarios: a “alternative method of delivery in the Pacific”, which makes one think of a conflict with China; the deployment of an air support base; and the “support for an embassy” in Africa, allowing “rapid reaction force”, which recalls the attack of Islamist terrorists in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, against diplomatic buildings of the United States, accused, at the time, of having responded too slowly… If the tests were conclusive, the army American could dream of one day linking Washington to Kabul in less than an hour…

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Despite these assumptions, isn’t wanting to travel on earth with a vehicle flying at 27,000 km/h and designed to go as far as Mars delusional? Not at all, earnestly argues Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s number two. ” I travel often. I would love to go from my home in Texas to Paris in an hour. It would be fun and effective.” she explained, passing through Paris in September. Does SpaceX also want to compete with long-haul flights by plane with Starship, its new giant reusable rocket, which managed to land in a test flight in 2021? “Yes, absolutely”, replies the manager, estimating the potential market at “20 billion dollars [18,8 milliards d’euros] per year “. SpaceX even produced, in 2020, a video imagining such a service: New York-Paris in twenty-nine minutes, New York-Shanghai in thirty-nine minutes, Tokyo-Dubai in twenty-nine minutes, Los Angeles-Toronto in twenty – four minutes, lists the fictitious advertisement.

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