So this is obviously a several year old proposal from SpaceX in which they claim that their Starship is capable of being used as a means of traveling anywhere in the world in under an hour.

A shiny promotional video can be found here. The obvious problem here is economics, in the same fashion that kept the Concord from being anything more than a French/British vanity project. But then economies of scale help, not to mention the fact that Starship can carry a much larger payload and spread the cost much more easily.

Another factor that could affect this is the use of VTOLs to heavily supplement traditional aircraft for shorter flights. Either compound helicopters or tiltrotors are fast and efficient enough that over shorter distances where they can land closer to the final destination they could easily be superior.

I'm not sure how this would really be affected by decarbonization of energy and a switch to electric propulsion for most things, but it is likely that it would limit both traditional aircraft and this more exotic mixed approach about equally. Both would require synthetic fuel production because batteries are too heavy for aircraft and obviously don't work for rockets.

For a future Earth, is this plausible?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Is there a world-building question here? This might be better asked at Space Exploration or Physics. I can think of a lot of reasons why rockets/VTOL would be near useless for commercial air travel (discomfort, liability, economics, the fact that almost any other means of transportation for a distance of less than 1,000 miles would be easier in almost every way...), but what you haven't explained is how this relates to your fictional world. From help center, "Worldbuilding Stack Exchange is a site for designers, writers, artists, gamers and enthusiasts to get help creating imaginary worlds." $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 4:07
  • $\begingroup$ The trivial answer from a world-building perspective is “yes it’s plausible” with additional evidence: at least some of Musk’s investors believing in the plausibility of profits. In fiction, pre/early-warp Star Trek is a great example since the societal pattern throughout the timeline just begs one to envision this kind of thing was just offscreen at some point. @JBH is right, better to migrate the underlying question somewhere with domain knowledge to address your concerns. Space Exploration sounds best to me as a non-expert. $\endgroup$
    – newcoder
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 14:39

2 Answers 2


There are a lot of reasons that supersonic travel never became popular, and most of them also apply to rocket travel. I highly recommend R.E.G. Davis' book Fallacies And Fantasies Of Air Transport History, which gives an excellent explanation of why increasing aircraft speed isn't necessarily the key to improved air travel. Let's use a real world example. Joe lives in Manhattan and needs to get to Paris for a meeting in September. Skyscanner says he can travel round trip on TAP Air Portugal for $873. Here's a breakdown of travel time. Let's use the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower as our landmarks.

  • Joe grabs an Uber and spends 40 minutes getting to EWR (total time so far: 40 minutes)
  • Joe arrives at EWR 3 hours early for the flight (3 hours, 40 minutes)
  • Joe spends 7 hours, 5 minutes flying EWR to CDG (10 hours, 45 minutes)
  • Joe spends an hour getting off the plane, picking up his luggage, going through customs, and hiring a car (11 hours, 45 minutes)
  • Joe takes the 40 minute ride to his destination (12 hours, 25 minutes)

The only part of that trip that could be improved through rockets is the in-air time. I intentionally picked a city that has direct flights to Paris. I live in Washington DC, and I connected through Canada last time I flew there. Any connections would add to the non-rocket time. If you take the "anywhere in an hour" claim at face value, Joe would still spend more than 6 hours getting to Paris. So how much would a rocket trip cost? Probably a lot. There's some subset of the population that would be willing to pay that much money to save a few hours, but it's a very very small group. And what would the passenger experience be like? I've never flown on a rocket, but astronauts make it sound like launch is a terrifying experience.

It's harder to know the impact that VTOL could have. This Forbes piece offers one perspective.

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    $\begingroup$ Re passenger experience, perhaps this is relevant: "I felt exactly how you would feel if you were getting ready to launch and knew you were sitting on top of 2 million parts — all built by the lowest bidder on a government contract." — Attributed to John Glenn. And in the case of SpaceX's Starship, add the 3.4 million kg of explosive propellant :-) $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 5:18
  • $\begingroup$ How about a space elevator and then firing yourself, using the low atmosphere for incredible speeds and you could possibly use a form of mag gun with smooth acceleration to do with less fuel requirements. You fire it towards another space elevator or simply drop into the atmosphere at the required destination. Less waiting times for being ready as well, as the pod can go up independently from other passengers. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 7:15


i myself enjoy the rather lengthy travel times. I myself am also not alone in this. I use a bicycle for all of my travel, and bicycles also has been my whole experience as a PMC. My point is that speed is far less important than how much ground in a day you can cover.

that being said, a lifting body design for an orbital or suborbital plane would be what I would go for. And while the view would be breath taking, it fails to take into account that money doesn't grow on trees, and if it did, the inflation we'd see would be beyond obscene--which i don't think you'd like the idea of paying almost $100.00 for a McDonald's burger meal.

the elephant in the room is that business men like us who work for a corporation be it civilian or paramilitary, has to convince the accounting department that what you're doing is worth paying for. a suborbital flight to some business meeting is something the accounting department would laugh you out of the room for, and just end up giving you a first class ticket on some airline flight instead.

  • $\begingroup$ "...and just end up giving you a first class ticket on some airline flight instead" - I want to work for whoever you work for. In my experience, with most employers you're lucky if you can upgrade to business class. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 16:08

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