SpaceX is in the process of developing a Starship that will one day enable life on Mars. Starship will be a giant stainless-steel launch vehicle, capable of transporting tons of cargo and one hundred passengers to destinations in space. SpaceX’s ultimate mission is to develop a fully reusable Starship to launch a fleet of one thousand ships to colonize the Red Planet before the year 2050. Before that, SpaceX aims to build a base on the moon called "Moon Base Alpha."
SpaceX Boca Chica Starship factory /Source: TESMANIAN.com
Starship is currently under development at the company’s South Texas facility located at Boca Chica Beach in Brownsville, Texas. It will be a two-stage vehicle consisting of a spaceship and a huge rocket booster named Super Heavy that will only be used on Earth to take the craft out of our atmosphere. Starship is 164 feet high, a Super Heavy booster will measure about 229 feet, and together at a spaceport launchpad, the duo will be around 393 feet tall! Starship and Super Heavy will be powered by Raptor engines fueled by a combination of sub-cooled liquid oxygen and cryogenic methane.
The founder and chief engineer at SpaceX Elon Musk shared some details via Twitter about Starship missions to the lunar surface. Musk explained how Starship would need to undergo some different adaptations to land on the moon, differing from the Mars Starship version - “We’re working on new legs. Wider stance & able to auto-level. Important for leaning into wind or landing on rocky & pitted surfaces.” Musk also explained that, “Forward thrusters are to stabilize ship when landing in high winds. If goal is max payload to moon per ship, no heatshield or flaps or big gas thruster packs are needed.” NASA recently released a photograph of a lunar version of Starship that does not feature the aerodynamic flaps the Mars ship will have, pictured below.
"A lunar optimized Starship can fly many times between the surface of the Moon and lunar orbit without flaps or heat shielding required for Earth return," SpaceX stated. Unlike Starships that will be used for Earth and Mars voyages that will feature a heatshield and be reusable. The Starships that will land on the moon will be used to build a SpaceX lunar base - “No need to bring early ships back. They can serve as part of moon base alpha,” Musk said.
Forward thrusters are to stabilize ship when landing in high winds. If goal is max payload to moon per ship, no heatshield or flaps or big gas thruster packs are needed. No need to bring early ships back. They can serve as part of moon base alpha.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 8, 2020
"We definitely want to land it on the Moon before 2022. We want to… stage cargo there to make sure that there are resources for the folks that ultimately land on the Moon by 2024, if things go well, so that’s the aspirational time frame," SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell stated last year - "Elon puts out these incredibly audacious goals and people say ‘You’re not going to do it, you’ll never get to orbit, you’ll never get a real rocket to orbit….you’ll never get Heavy to orbit, you’ll never get Dragon to the station, you’ll never get Dragon back, and you’ll never land a rocket'...So, frankly, I love when people say we can’t do it, because it motivates my fantastic 6,500 employees to go do that thing."
Musk would like to launch the first Starships to Mars with cargo in 2022, then by 2024, he aims to send the first humans to the Red Planet. NASA aims to launch astronauts to the lunar surface in 2024 too. The agency selected SpaceX to develop a Starship Lunar Lander under the agency’s Artemis program. SpaceX’s principal Mars development engineer Paul Wooster said in October 2019 that SpaceX is capable of simultaneously building a base on the moon and Mars.