SpaceX Starship Update

In the early morning of September 29th, 2019 UTC (evening of September 28th local time in Texas, the 11th anniversary of SpaceX’s first orbital launch for a Falcon 1), SpaceX founder and Chief Engineer Elon Musk presented a perspective on the history of SpaceX and its plans for the Starship and Super Heavy reusable heavy lift launcher.

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Author: John Walker

Founder of Ratburger.org, Autodesk, Inc., and Marinchip Systems. Author of The Hacker's Diet. Creator of www.fourmilab.ch.

9 thoughts on “SpaceX Starship Update”

  1. He rambled quite a bit and seemed to repeatedly change his prediction of which version of the aircraft would be the first to orbit.

    Considering that we have not yet seen a manned flight of crew dragon, his timeline for manned flight of starship is insane.

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  2. One interesting thing about the testing of this monster (starship and bfr) is that just a few tests might account for more lift capability than years worth of existing programs.

    Can this testing be used to place some relatively inexpensive but highly useful things into orbit such as supplies for future missions? He came close to suggesting something similar for lunar test missions.

    But this begs the question of whether starship is the proper vehicle for such missions. It seems that non-reusable vehicles might be most appropriate. It would be very difficult to make a reusable vehicle with the capability of dropping off tons of supplies or a small factory on the lunar surface.

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  3. ctlaw:
    He rambled quite a bit and seemed to repeatedly change his prediction of which version of the aircraft would be the first to orbit.

    Yes, he says at 51:15, “We would fly to orbit with Mark 3, which would be after Mark 1 right here [Boca Chica]”, but then at 53:29 “We would seek to go to orbit with probably Mark 4 or Mark 5.  … We want to try to reach orbit in less than 6 months.”  They’re clearly making it up as they go along.  Until they demonstrate the belly-flop transition to vertical landing with Mark 1, everything else is theoretical.  Also, later in the Q&A (1:10:45), he notes that at present engines are the pacing item, since the first orbital flight will probably have 31 engines on the Super Heavy and 6 on the Starship, and a total of 100 engines for development and test before reaching orbit.  Current production rate is 8 to 10 days for each Raptor, hoping to increase to one every two days in a few months.

    I think he misspoke when talking about going to orbit with Mark 3, since later he clearly says that they don’t plan working on the booster until after building Mark 4.  If concurrent development continues, that would mean it most likely Mark 4 or 5 would go to orbit.

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  4. ctlaw:
    But this begs the question of whether starship is the proper vehicle for such missions. It seems that non-reusable vehicles might be most appropriate. It would be very difficult to make a reusable vehicle with the capability of dropping off tons of supplies or a small factory on the lunar surface.

    To make the plan work, you need both reusability and orbital refuelling.  With orbital refuelling (34:30) of the Starship by multiple Starship tanker flights, it should be able to deliver 150 tonnes of payload to the surface of the Moon and then return to the Earth, empty.  The entire mass of the International Space Station is around 420 tonnes, so you could deliver that in three flights.

    Payload to the surface of Mars is about the same, but the return to Earth requires refuelling the Starship on Mars from in-situ propellant production.

    It’s also worth noting that the payload capacity of a Boeing 747 freighter is comparable (128.5 tonnes for the 747-400F), and nobody suggests a non-reusable airplane would be more economical for such cargoes.

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  5. John Walker:
    It’s also worth noting that the payload capacity of a Boeing 747 freighter is comparable (128.5 tonnes for the 747-400F), and nobody suggests a non-reusable airplane would be more economical for such cargoes.

    But a 747 is not vertical with a cargo hold a hundred feet off the ground and does not have to carry all the equipment to unload itself.

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  6. Here is Scott Manley’s summary of the SpaceX presentation.  If you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, this will give you the essentials.

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  7. After the conclusion of the Starship presentation, Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut, had a fifteen minute conversation with Elon Musk, who went into a lot of detail about SpaceX’s design philosophy, the advantages of methane as fuel, the sins of optimising subsystems without ever asking whether they are necessary, and the need to question all design constraints before designing to them.  This is hard-core, geeky, rocket nerd stuff—either beware or get ready for a treat.

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