How SpaceX’s Starship Will Become the Most Powerful Rocket in the World
SpaceX’s Starship . In September 2019, Elon Musk unveiled the first iteration of his next-generation vehicle Starship. SpaceX continues to push the limits and this next endeavour may be its most ambitious yet. The company was founded with the intention of one day creating a human colony on Mars, and Elon Musk hopes that Starship and the Super Heavy rocket will be the way to get there.
So how are they going to do it? First things first, let’s clear up the names. Over the years, the transportation system has had multiple name changes starting with Interplanetary Transport System to BFR a.k.a. Big Falcon Rocket, although allegedly Elon uses the “F” in a very different way, and finally, Starship. Built to carry 100 passengers, Starship will serve as the spacecraft to shuttle both people and cargo to Earth’s orbit and beyond. At 50 meters, Starship was initially supposed to be built with carbon fiber, but in January 2019, the team made the switch to stainless steel. The material is denser and has greater thermal properties allowing it to better withstand the heat during re-entry.
It’s also cheaper, and of course, it looks awesome. The spacecraft is powered by six Raptor engines, three for its time in the atmosphere, and the rest for propulsion in space. Each Raptor engine is fueled with cryogenic methane and liquid oxygen. While Starship has its six raptors, the real power behind this transportation system comes from the Super Heavy rocket. Standing at 68 meters high and with 72 meganewtons of thrust at liftoff, the Super Heavy can carry more than 100 metric tons. That’s because this rocket has thirty-seven Raptor engines. In its final iteration, the combined Starship and Super Heavy will be the world’s most powerful launch vehicle ever developed.
Once it reaches Earth’s orbit, the booster and spacecraft will detach. Starship will continue on its way to its destination, while Super Heavy will return to Earth, landing vertically like previous Falcons. As for Starship, when it returns from its galactic voyages, this behemoth of a spacecraft will re-orientate itself and re-enter the upper atmosphere at around at a 60-degree angle.
Then, as it nears just a few hundred meters from the ground, the ship will turn its engines on to adjust itself for a swift vertical landing. Needless to say, this will make for a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat, viewing party. And SpaceX is working fast to bring this project to life. In the spirit of healthy intra-company competition, the company is building multiple Starship prototypes at different locations: The Mark 1 in Boca Chica, Texas and Mark 2 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Other versions are planned, however the lucky version that will fly, will most likely be a later iteration of Starship. At this point, you may be wondering, how on Earth is SpaceX going to pay for all this? Well, by building one ship and one booster
SpaceX Starship envisions that this system will allow it to pool its resources to focus on just one fully reusable system instead funding multiple like the Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, and Dragon capsule. Starship would continue to run re-supply missions to the ISS, with the added bonus of being able to shuttle both crewmembers and cargo at a relatively lower cost than the Falcon vehicles. SpaceX would continue to launch satellites, and thanks to Starship’s massive 9m diameter forward payload section, it would be capable of delivering payloads even larger than the James Webb Space Telescope into Earth’s orbit. Finally, there’s also the lofty idea of using Starship as a new, high speed way of commercial travel, transforming the 14 hour plane ride from New York to Tokyo to just under an hour. But it might be awhile before we take those types of flights. As for the final Starship, Musk envisions its uncrewed orbital test flight could happen by spring of 2020. So until then, it seems that Musk may be one step closer to his vision of getting humans to the red planet.