If Mars is the great goal of the space race of this century, Spatialship is the great promise to make it a reality. Elon Musk and Space X’s ambitious project has been in the world’s imagination for almost 20 years, but only now it looks like it will come true.
But Starship’s importance goes far beyond Mars. It is, even if it doesn’t seem like it, the beginning of a new era of space exploration.
When will Starship launch?
That’s the big question and the truth, at this stage of the game, is that no one knows. If we look at statements from Musk and the company, the date of this first orbital flight was only delayed. The latest forecasts spoke of summer 2022, but the recent explosion a few days ago questioned everything.
What was the problem? Apparently, cryogenic fuel. Lifting 100 tons of metal is not easy, and to do so, the Super Heavy and its 33 Raptor engines require liquid cryogenic thrusters or propellants. Their fundamental advantage (in addition to the space they save) is that they offer spectacular boosts compared to other alternatives. However“it is an additional challenge, because it evaporates and creates a risk of explosion in the air in an atmosphere composed partly of oxygen like that of the Earth”
What exactly is Starship?
Since at least 2005, Space X is working on the idea of the ‘BFR’ (‘Big Fucking Rocket’). Since then, the project has changed name, design and specifications several times; but the idea is essentially the same: to build the most powerful launcher ever developed; a monster capable of carrying over 100 metric tons into Earth orbit.
Why is Starship so important?
The project has attracted worldwide attention. Largely because it’s a key part of Musk’s plans for Mars, but Starship is so much more than a huge rocket. The project to create a “rapidly and completely reusable orbital-class rocket that can be mass-produced” goes much further and, in the words of Casey Handmer, will “activate a conveyor belt with a logistics capability in low orbit” of the Earth. That is to say, it will destroy the severe technical restrictions that have accompanied the aerospace industry for the past 50 years.
If we think about it, every space mission is a “miniaturization marvel” simply because we don’t have the capacity to put things that are too big and/or heavy in orbit. With Starship fully operational, the situation would change dramatically. We would be entering, de facto, a new era of space exploration.
What is the project about? How tall will the Super Heavy be? What parts does it have?
In very general terms, the success of Starship requires the construction of a two-stage rocket: the Starship itself and the launcher, called Starship Super Heavy. If we talk about the launcher, it will have 33 Raptor engines and allow Starship to leave Earth, come back to be used again. This is the SpaceX philosophy of reuse taken to the maximum power (of current technology).
The complete vessel will be 120 meters long and capable of carrying 150 tons of maximum payload, with a total take-off weight of 4,000 tons. And, with these characteristics, it will exceed in size the SLS launch system (Space Launch System) from NASA and the SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy. To land the numbers, the Super Heavy will have five times stronger propulsion of what was at the time the most powerful rocket of the century, the Falcon Heavy.
Why is Starship development so expensive?
In many ways, Space X has spoiled us. Many of its developments sounded like science fiction a few years before they were brought to fruition. Instead, Starship is struggling to get off the ground, and while the pandemic has played a big part in those delays, the issues run deeper. Elon Musk himself admitted at the start of the tests that when flying at low altitude I only expected a 33% chance of success and, after several delays, the ship managed to take flight and then completely explode at the end of 2020.
Problems with this project caused the FAA follow the project closely, but events did not stop happening. In March 2021, SpaceX managed to successfully land the third explode a few minutes later. A few weeks later, he would finally complete this cycle successfully and the situation seemed on the right track, until July 11, 2022 exploded again.