Starship is a class of fully reusable launch vehicles in development by American aerospace company SpaceX. The launch vehicle consists of a reusable stainless-steel Super Heavy booster and a Starship spacecraft, designed to hold liquid oxygen with liquid methane used by Raptor rocket engines. Starship's large payload capacity to space and full reusability should make it both extremely cost-competitive and able to serve many facets of spaceflight, including space tourism, interplanetary spaceflight, and fast point-to-point flights between places on Earth. With these capabilities, the rocket is incorporated into many space missions, such as the dearMoon project, NASA's Artemis program, and SpaceX's Mars program.
|super heavy-lift reusable launch vehicle built by SpaceX|
|Country of origin|
Starship was called the Mars Colonial Transporter, Big Falcon Rocket, and Interplanetary Transport System, each with different designs. On 25 July 2019, Starhopper performed the first successful flight by any Starship prototype at the SpaceX South Texas launch site. The first complete Starship prototype was SN8, which crashed upon landing on 9 December 2020 and has raised many concerns about SpaceX's safety procedures on testing and damages to the surrounding environment. As of October 2021, Super Heavy BN4 and Starship SN20[a] were expected to become the first prototypes to attempt to reach orbital velocity.
Although a large-scale, self-sufficient, and developed space economy is the industry's aim, cost of accessing space has been a barrier to achieving it. Little market competition emerged inside any national market, and within the United States, high cost and preference to existing contractors made it difficult for commercial launch service providers to compete. However, many measures of cost reduction had been implemented by various agencies and companies with varying success. One example is the development of small-lift launch vehicles, which in 2008 the United States Air Force expected launch cost to be less than ten million United States dollars.
In the early 2010s, private spaceflight emerged and brought substantial competition into the existing market, with notable space vehicles for that sector including Falcon 9, Electron, and LauncherOne. Also at that time, there have been numerous concepts and proposals for a human mission to Mars, however, none of them made it to technology development phase.
From at least 2009, SpaceX recovered the first stages of several early Falcon 9 flights to assist with the development of the reusable rocket stage. At first, both stages were equipped with parachutes, but the mechanism failed to survive the extreme heat during atmospheric re-entry. By late 2014, SpaceX replaced the parachutes by using the first stage's engines to propulsively land and abandoned reusing Falcon 9's second stage. Technology developed for second stage reuse were then transferred to Starship's development.
The goal of Starship is to be a fully reusable orbital launch and reentry vehicle. It is 120 m (390 ft) high and has a 9 m (30 ft) diameter, taller than the Saturn V also by 9 m (30 ft). Starship consists of two stages: a Super Heavy booster and a Starship spacecraft; both have a body made from SAE 304L stainless steel. Starship and Super Heavy are also powered by Raptor and Raptor Vacuum engines, consuming liquid oxygen and methane. Since SpaceX develops Starship via operational testing, meaning to fly prototypes directly instead of testing each component, its design can change rapidly.
A Starship launch can deliver more than 100 t (220,000 lb) to low Earth orbit, and higher Earth, Moon, Mars, and other orbits can be accessed after the spacecraft is refueled by tanker Starships. The launch vehicle can be used to launch almost all space payloads, instead of being specialized for only one facet of spaceflight. Its design has influenced other launch vehicles, such as both Terran R's rocket stage and second stages in Project Jarvis reusability and stainless-steel construction.
Both Starship's stages are equipped with Raptor engines, full-flow staged combustion cycle rocket engines consuming liquid methane and liquid oxygen. In an interview with Tim Dodd, Musk stated that all Raptor engines would combust liquid oxygen to liquid methane in a ratio of 3.5 to 3.7. For Raptor Vacuum variant, it is equipped with a nozzle extension with a throat area to exit area of 1 to 80 to increase Raptor's specific impulse in space to about 380 s (3.73 km/s). This is not used in sea-level optimized Raptor engines because of potential damage caused by flow separation. Later Starships might be equipped with an improved version of Raptor called Raptor 2. In the same interview, Musk also mentioned that most of the Raptor 2 variant will be produced in a new SpaceX facility in McGregor, while SpaceX's factory at Hawthorne would be used to produce Raptor Vacuum and test new engine designs.
A Raptor engine has two preburners connected to their respective turbopumps, each is fed either with a mixture containing mostly liquid oxygen, or a mixture containing mostly liquid methane. Unlike other rocket engines, the Raptor combusts all of its propellant inside the preburner and provide engine turbines with more power and efficiency. Therefore, turbines' temperature and mechanical stress are greatly reduced, translating into longer turbine and overall engine lifespan. In addition, having only gas in the turbopumps eliminates the need for complex sealants. All of these factors increase Raptor's reliability and specific impulse, or in simple terms, higher power generated per unit of propellant.
Super Heavy boosterEdit
The Super Heavy booster measures 70 m (230 ft) tall and may house up to 33[b] sea-level optimized Raptor engines. Its tanks can hold about 3,600 t (7,900,000 lb) of propellant, consisting of about 2,800 t (6,200,000 lb) of liquid oxygen and 800 t (1,800,000 lb) of liquid methane. Without propellant, the booster mass's range from 160 t (350,000 lb) to 200 t (440,000 lb).
Four grid fins are installed above Super Heavy and controlled by electric motors; these grid fins are used to control Super Heavy's descent and touchdown onto launch tower's pair of mechanical arms. These grid fins are not spaced out evenly, instead, they are positioned closer to change booster's pitch easier. As of August 2021, SpaceX plans to not fold grid fins during launch, citing complexity, mass increase, and insignificant drag for the rationale. The company also plans to use evaporated gas from propellant tanks to control the booster's attitude during flight, as well as exploit the Coriolis effect to separate from the spacecraft.
The Starship spacecraft is attached to the top of the Super Heavy booster and measures 50 m (160 ft) tall, and can hold 1,200 t (2,600,000 lb) of propellant. The closest estimation of Starship's dry mass from Elon Musk is less than 100 t (220,000 lb). Six Raptor engines are mounted at spacecraft's bottom, three are optimized for atmospheric pressure, and three for vacuum operation called Raptor Vacuum. It also has four body flaps to control falling velocity and vehicle's orientation, two are mounted at the nose cone and called aft flaps, and two are mounted near the bottom and called front flaps. Starship's heat shield are made from many black hexagonal tiles, and should be able to use multiple times with little maintenance in-between. The spacecraft does not have a launch escape system, as Starship should be reliable by the time it has human on board.
SpaceX plans to build multiple Starship variants. For the cargo variant, a large door replaces conventional payload fairings, which can capture, store, and return payload and space debris to Earth. The payload door is closed during launch, opens to release payload once in orbit, then closes again during reentry. Another variant is called Starship tanker, which can fuel other Starships to increase the spacecraft's delta-v budget or range enough to reach Mars. In 2019, SpaceX is partnering with NASA to further develop in-orbit cryogenic propellant fueling technologies.
Starship Human Landing System (Starship HLS), a variant of Starship, will serve as a crewed lunar lander for NASA's Artemis program and be accompanied by Starship tankers and Starship propellant depot variant. By having Starship tankers transferring propellant to Starship depot, the lunar lander only need one fueling session before heading toward the Moon. Starship HLS will not have flaps and heat shield, as well as not use the Raptor engines to directly land, instead, a smaller set of landing thrusters is equipped to the lunar lander. The vehicle will have significantly higher cargo capacity than other Artemis HLS alternatives, so an elevator is used to transport cargo and astronauts to the lunar surface.
Starship's launch tower consists of steel truss sections and a lightning rod on top, with a pair of mechanical arms and a large crane. The crane lifts and stabilizes the launch vehicle, while the launch tower recovers Super Heavy by catching with the mechanical arms, nicknamed Mechazilla by Musk. Eventually, this recovery system might enable these rocket stages to be prepared quickly and allow multiple launches in a day.
Starship may launch at Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A), SpaceX's South Texas launch site, and SpaceX's offshore platforms. The South Texas launch site is also referred to by SpaceX as Starbase. These offshore platforms are named Phobos and Deimos after the moons of Mars, were former oil drilling rigs named Valaris 8500 and 8501. Both spaceports are 78 m (260 ft) long and 73 m (240 ft) wide; each is also equipped with two Seatrax S90 cranes.
These infrastructures are the subject of many spaceflight news correspondents and enthusiasts. However, some residents of Boca Chica Village and Brownsville have criticized Starship development, claiming that SpaceX had conducted unauthorized test flights along with infrastructure construction, force sale of houses, and noise pollusion. Environmental groups claimed that Starship development program threatens surrounding wildlife, including eighteen endangered species.
Economics and missionsEdit
Starship launch cost estimates vary widely, ranging from Musk's $2 million per launch to a satellite market analyst's $10 million. It is expected with a larger volume and mass capacity, as well as substantially lower cost to orbit, Starship may allow larger and more advanced science payloads such as 8–15.1 m (26.2–49.5 ft)-diameter mirror variants of the Large Ultraviolet Optical Infrared Surveyor space telescope. Another example are Starlink satellites: although Falcon 9 launch can deliver sixty to low Earth orbit, Starship would be able to put four hundred of them to the same destination. As the launch vehicle become more capable and less expensive to launch, it will replace all SpaceX's existing launch vehicles and spacecraft, including Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, and Dragon 2.
On 16 April 2021, NASA selected Starship HLS and awarded SpaceX a $2.89 billion contract over the Integrated Lander Vehicle and Dynetics HLS, where Starship HLS will need to perform an uncrewed landing demonstration before it would do a crewed lunar landing on the Artemis 3 flight. However, responding to that announcement, Blue Origin on 26 April 2021 filed a protest to the Government Accountability Office. On 4 November 2021, United States Court of Federal Claims gives a memorandum opinion titled Blue Origin v. United States & Space Exploration Technologies Corp. rejecting Blue Origin's complaint.
Starship is also expected to facilitate space tourism, where a space mission named dearMoon project has been planned by Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa. Originally using a Crew Dragon capsule, the dearMoon project plans to perform a flight around the Moon with Starship. The mission's crew is expected to consist of Maezawa and eight others from the public.
Another potential use for Starship is point-to-point flights, or termed Earth to Earth by SpaceX. The spacecraft would travel between spaceports on Earth, with flight times of some 40 minutes from New York City to Shanghai. SpaceX president and chief operating officer, Gwynne Shotwell, predicted that it could be cost-competitive with business class travel. As of October 2020, the Rocket Cargo program is the only dedicated program that research this mode of transport, funded by the United States Transportation Command. A space analyst highlighted risks involved in point-to-point spacecraft travel, such as conflict escalation due to misunderstanding between allies.
SpaceX has stated that its goal is to start colonization of Mars and terraforming by its launch vehicles, because of humanity's long-term survival. Musk had estimated that a Mars city containing a million people would be self-sustaining, meaning excluding population growth, at least ten thousand crewed Starships and a hundred thousand Starships delivering cargo is needed.
Starship might use Sabatier reaction on Mars to create liquid methane and liquid oxygen on Mars, by exposing carbon dioxide and hydrogen to a catalyst and temperature conditions of 300–400 °C (600–800 °F) and pressure conditions of 3 MPa (400 psi). Carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas can be obtained from Mars's atmosphere and underground ice. The chemical reaction is an endothermic reaction with a chemical formula below:
- CO2 (g) + 4 H2 (g) → CH4 (g) + 2 H2O (g) (ΔHr = −165.0 kJ/mol)
In November 2005, SpaceX first referenced a launch vehicle concept with Starship's capabilities, when in a student conference, Musk briefly mentioned a theoretical heavy‑lift launch vehicle code-named BFR. It was going to be powered by a larger version of the Merlin engine called the Merlin 2. At least from 2012, SpaceX has thought about building another space vehicle called the Mars Colonial Transporter, but little information is given to the public.
In September 2016 at the 67th International Astronautical Congress, Musk announced the renamed the Mars Colonial Transporter called Interplanetary Transport System, as well as provided key information about it to the public. The Interplanetary Transport System was to be 122 m (400 ft) tall, 12 m (39 ft) wide, and conceived to be a fully reusable launch vehicle that could launch humans to Mars and other destinations in the Solar System.
Both stages were to be made from carbon composites, with the first stage or booster was to be powered by 42 Raptor engines, and the second stage or spacecraft named Interplanetary Spaceship was to be powered by nine Raptor engines. These Raptor engines are used not only for launching to orbit, but also enable these rocket stages to propulsively land to the surface. The second stage was going to have a PICA heat shield to protect itself when enters the atmosphere as well as could be fueled in orbit to be able to reach further destinations in the Solar System.
At the following International Astronautical Congress, Musk announced a replacement launch vehicle called the Big Falcon Rocket or informally called the Big Fucking Rocket. The Big Falcon Rocket was revised to be 106 m (348 ft) tall and 9 m (30 ft) wide, with three aft flaps and two forward flaps to control its descent. Other than updated rocket engine arrangement, most features of this launch vehicle are largely equivalent to the Interplanetary Transport System. In that conference, he talked about possible point-to-point transportation with the launch vehicle and termed the feature Earth to Earth. In November 2018, the present names of the launch vehicle and stage were first published: Super Heavy for the booster, Starship for the spacecraft, and Starship for the whole vehicle.
In January 2019, Musk announced that Starship would be made from stainless steel and stated that this might be stronger than an equivalent carbon composite in a wide range of temperatures. In the same month, SpaceX announced it would lay off ten percent of its workforce to help finance Starship and Starlink projects. On 27 August 2019, a simplified prototype named Starhopper hopped 150 m (490 ft) high. Starship Mk1 (Mark 1) was the first full‑scale Starship prototype built in September 2019 and Mk2 was constructed five months later in Florida. Both prototypes could not fly and were recycled years later.
During a cryogenic proof or propellant fueling test on 28 February 2020, SN1 (Mk3) crumbled due to a fault in its bottom tank. On 3 April 2020, during SN3's cryogenic proof test, a valve leaked the liquid nitrogen inside its lower tank, causing the vessel to depressurize and collapse. On 29 May 2020, SN4 exploded after its fifth successful static fire or engine firing test. A month later, Musk tweeted that new prototypes would be made from SAE 304L instead of SAE 301 stainless steel. On 4 August 2020, SN5 completed a 150 m (490 ft) hop using a single Raptor engine, and SN6 replicated SN5's flight path successfully 20 days later.
SN8 was the first complete Starship prototype and underwent four static fire tests between October and November 2020. Notably, in the third static fire test, the engine might melt the launch pad and bits of molten concrete hit it back. On 9 December 2020, SN8 performed the first flight by a Starship, reaching an altitude of 12.5 km (7.8 mi), and crashed on impact. During the SN8 launch, SpaceX ignored Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) warnings that the flight profile posed a risk of explosion, causing the FAA's Associate Administrator Wayne Monteith to condemn the company for not conducting thorough checks established by the agency. On 2 February 2021, SN9 flew 10 km (6.2 mi) high, then crashed at an angle. On 3 March 2021, SN10 repeated SN9's flight path and successfully hard landed, and exploded eight minutes later. On 30 March 2021, SN11 exploded in a dense fog while descending, with the most possible explanation is a hard start on the engine's turbopump. After the launch, SpaceX skipped SN12, SN13, and SN14, incorporating their improvements to SN15 instead. On 5 May 2021, SN15 flew the same flight path as previous prototypes and soft-landed successfully.
SN20–present: Orbital launchesEdit
As of October 2021, skipping over SN16, SN17, SN18, and SN19, SN20 along with BN4[a] are targeted to an orbital flight in January 2022, pending approval from the FAA. BN4 is expected to separate about three minutes into the orbital flight and splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 30 km (19 mi) from the shoreline. SN20 spacecraft's ground track will then traverse the middle of the Straits of Florida. Once over the Atlantic Ocean, SN20 is then expected to accelerate close to the orbital speed and splashdown around ninety minutes later 100 km (60 mi) northwest of Kauai, Hawaii. The FAA allowed the public to comment until 1 November on the environmental impact statement draft released on 19 September, which many experts criticized for missing important details about the propellant source.
Timeline and external mediaEdit
|Note: The start dates are when prototypes were first spotted by the public, and the end dates are when prototypes are destroyed, decommissioned, or retired.|
Simplified prototypes • Starship spacecraft • Super Heavy booster • Test tanks
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- Early Super Heavy prototypes will have less than 33 engines.
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- Official website – SpaceX's website about Starship
- Starship playlist – SpaceX's media playlist about Starship on Youtube
- Media related to SpaceX Starship at Wikimedia Commons
- Quote related to SpaceX Starship at Wikiquote
- Book about SpaceX Starship at Wikibooks
- Data related to SpaceX Starship at Wikidata