Now that SpaceX's final Falcon 9 design has launched for the first time, there's a looming question: how many more launches does the vehicle have left? Elon Musk has an idea. He estimated that SpaceX will build 30 to 40 more Falcon 9 cores for "~300 missions" over the next five years. The pioneering rocket isn't going to go quietly, in other words -- and each core is expected to get several uses before it retires.
It's no secret as to what happens after the final mission: it's all about the BFR. The giant rocket "takes over" from Falcon 9 after those five years are done, Musk said, enabling missions to the Moon, Mars and "eventually outer planets." While there's been little doubt that Falcon 9 was ultimately a stepping stone for SpaceX, the reality of that transition is quickly coming into focus.
There's a lingering question about how this will affect the cost of each mission. Right now, it costs about $50 million to launch a reused Falcon 9. In theory, flying 300 missions with as few as 30 rockets is going to dramatically lower the per-launch cost. Musk didn't touch on that directly, but there's a distinct chance that space will be considerably more accessible for companies and countries in the near future.
SpaceX will prob build 30 to 40 rocket cores for ~300 missions over 5 years. Then BFR takes over & Falcon retires. Goal of BFR is to enable anyone to move to moon, Mars & eventually outer planets.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 13, 2018