Featured Image Source: SpaceX
SpaceX is building Starship in South Texas at Boca Chica Beach. The aerospace company’s founder Chief Engineer Elon Musk envisions developing a fully reusable Starship capable of transporting one hundred passengers to Mars. During the Humans To Mars conference on Monday, he shared SpaceX will have to conduct ‘hundreds of missions’ before launching astronauts aboard. – “We’ve got to first make the thing work. […] Do hundreds of missions with satellites before we put people on board,” he said.
Multiple stainless-steel Starship prototypes are under assembly and undergoing testing at a small village where Musk envisions building the ‘Gateway to Mars’ spaceport. Last month, SpaceX successfully conducted a low-altitude test flight of a scaled-down Starship prototype. The vehicle soared 150-meters off the ground powered by a single Raptor engine. The company aims to make flying stainless-steel vehicles routine in Texas before attempting to launch a Starship prototype to orbit. “We’re making good progress. The thing that we’re really making progress on with Starship is the production system,” Musk told the conference’s host. “The thing that really impedes progress on Starship is the production system ... A year ago, there was almost nothing there and now we’ve got quite a lot of production capability. So, we’re rapidly making more and more ships.”
Starship takes flight pic.twitter.com/IWvwcA05hl— SpaceX (@SpaceX) August 5, 2020
Musk also shared that engineers will start the production of the massive Super Heavy rocket booster that will be needed to launch the Starship spacecraft out of Earth’s atmosphere. He said that the construction of the “booster prototype one” may initiate as soon as 'this week.' “Making a prototype of something is, I think, relatively easy,” he said. “But building the production system so that you can build ultimately hundreds or thousands of Starships, that’s the hard part.”
Starship’s design has changed a couple of times over the past two years; previously, Super Heavy’s design featured 31 Raptor engines, Musk said yesterday – “We might have fewer than 31 engines on the booster, because we’re trying to simplify the configuration… It might be 28 engines. It’s still a lot of engines.” Starship will feature 6 Raptor engines, 3 sea-level Raptors for atmospheric flight, and 3 vacuum-optimized Raptors for propulsion in space. Musk discussed technical details about these engines during the Humans To Mars conference; Stating that a Raptor could eventually achieve a thrust-to-weight [T/W] ratio of 200 and that over time a Starship will be capable to launch over 100 tons of cargo. "By any measure, the high thrust variant of Raptor will probably have the high T/W of any engine ever," Musk wrote later via Twitter. This week, he also shared the Super Heavy "Booster design has shifted to four legs with a wider stance (to avoid engine plume impingement in vacuum), rather than six."
Musk is not too focused on Starship's interior design because the current priority is to make the launch system work. Though, he did mention SpaceX has experience developing “a complex life support system that can deal with a wide range of environments” for passengers in space.
The outer ring of booster engines (20 of 28) have no TVC actuators. Steering control comes from center 8 TVC & differential throttle of outer engines. By any measure, the high thrust variant of Raptor will probably have the high T/W of any engine ever.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 1, 2020
SpaceX is preparing to conduct a second low-altitude test flight this month with a prototype referred to as Starship SN6. Then, it aims to launch the next prototype on a higher-altitude test flight of around 20-kilometers above Boca Chica Beach before attempting an orbital test flight. For perspective, orbit begins at an altitude of around 100-kilometers. Musk said the first orbital flight attempt will “Probably [be] next year.”
“I hope we do a lot of flights. The first ones might not work. This is uncharted territory,” he added, “Nobody’s ever made a fully reusable orbital rocket.” Engineers aim to create a Starship capable of being as reusable as airplanes. The company is working on a tight schedule to make this ambitious two-stage launch vehicle a reality. Starship first private customer booked a voyage around the moon scheduled for 2023, before that SpaceX will conduct ‘hundreds’ of Starship flights launching satellites to ensure the system is safe and reliable.
“Given enough time SpaceX will get to Mars,” Musk stated. “We've got to build upon a Mars base and then we've got to build a city and get to the point where it's self-sustaining.” When he was asked about what he believes the headlines on Earth will read when SpaceX launches the first humans to the Red Planet aboard Starship, he said – “I haven’t thought about that at all... Humans landed on Mars.”
“We need a lot of people fired up to go to Mars. It’s going to be kind of risky, but kind of a cool, fun adventure,” he said. Though, Musk also talked about the risks that are attached to spaceflight – “I want to emphasize that this is a very hard and dangerous difficult thing, not for the faint of heart … It's gonna’ be tough going and be pretty glorious if it works out."
Musk: "Given enough time SpaceX will get to Mars," but it's not just about getting there, it's about when and how.— Michael Sheetz (@thesheetztweetz) August 31, 2020
"We've got to build upon a Mars base and then we've got to build a city and get to the point where it's self-sustaining."