SpaceX Plans to Test Mars Rocket Within First Half of 2019

Elon Musk spoke as a guest in this year's South by Southwest Film Festival, or SXSW, about a range of topics including space exploration. On that note, the SpaceX BFR, the successor to the Falcon Heavy, is the first vehicle designed by the company to venture far from Earth.

The SpaceX co-founder noted that he is expecting the BFR to have its first "short up-and-down flights" by the first half of next year, in 2019. It's an "optimistic" estimate, as usual, something that the company is aiming at, according to according to Engadget.

SpaceXThe SpaceX Falcon Heavy hAS the ability to lift into orbit over 54 metric tons (119,000 lb), a mass equivalent to a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel.

As the Falcon Heavy successor is designed to go beyond Earth and eventually to Mars, these test flights will prove crucial to seeing if Musk's earlier plan for a settlement on the red planet by 2022 is possible for that year.

"Although sometimes, my timelines are a little, you know," Musk hedged his estimate, to appreciative laughter from the crowd.

One goal of the BFR test launches, according to Musk, is for people and other companies to begin to believe that travel to Mars is possible. "The biggest thing that would be helpful is just general support and encouragement and goodwill," he noted.

"I think once we build it we'll have a point of proof something that other companies and countries can go and do. They certainly don't think it's possible, but if we do they'll up their game," he added, as quoted by CNBC.

The BFR rocket system has a total of 37 Raptor engines in its design, with 31 on the booster stage and six on the actual spacecraft itself. This combination is estimated to deliver twice the lifting power of a Saturn V rocket, and it will be reusable as well.

The system is being designed to, later on, be capable of return trips to the Moon, and finally, taking on an ambitious cargo mission to Mars in four years or so.