SpaceX Is Building The World's Most Powerful Rocket: Starship Technical Details
November 5, 2019 •Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
SpaceX has developed some of the most technologically advanced rockets. The Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rocket which are capable of being launched into space and landing vertically, on land and at sea, in order to be reused again. No other rocket company has achieved that level of reusability. Their ultimate mission is to transform humans into a multi-planet species, so SpaceX is using all their technological advancements to develop a new spacecraft. The company intends to go bigger and better, they plan to replace their Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets with a multi-purpose reusable craft named Starship.
It will be the world's most powerful rocket in history! Capable of launching crew and cargo to Earth orbit. Enabling humans to embark on voyages to the Moon, Mars and beyond!
"Conciousness is a rare and precious thing, we should take whatever steps we can to preserve the light of consciousness...We should do our very best to become a multi-planet species, extend consciousness beyond Earth and we should do it now."
-Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX
The craft consists of a fully reusable second stage, named Starship. Which is a spaceship with capacity of carrying 100 humans and has an integrated payload section that can carry over 100 tons. Standing 50 meters tall with 9 meters in diameter. It will be capable of long-duration flights, with propellant capacity of up to 1,200 tons.
The bottom third of Starship will contain the propellant and 6 Raptor engines, including 3 sea level raptors, for atmospheric flight and 3 vacuum optimized Raptors, for propulsion in space. The Raptor engine could produce more than 200 tons of thrust at full throttle.
3 sea level optimized Raptors, 3 vacuum optimized Raptors (big nozzle)— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 23, 2019
Starship is made of stainless-steel, which is heat resistant and very durable. The switch to stainless steel from the expensive, lightweight carbon fiber composite material, that other rockets are made with, is that the steel gets stronger the colder it gets -making it ideal for flights in the cold depths of space.
Also has a higher melting point, which makes it more resilient during the hot re-entry burn of Earth's atmosphere. And it is cheaper, about 2% the cost of carbon fiber. Which is ideal for SpaceX because in the long run, they want to build as many ships as possible to accomplish becoming a space-faring civilization.
Because stainless steel is already heat resistant, Starship will only include a heat shield on one half of its surface, the re-entry side of the craft, for extra protection. This heat shield consists of hexagonal heat resistant ceramic tiles. The panels are hexagonal to ensure there is no straight path through which super-heated gas could accelerate through the gaps.
Testing Starship heatshield hex tiles pic.twitter.com/PycE9VthxQ— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 17, 2019
The design includes large fins that will move to orient the craft upon re-entry and landing. Two fins are steerable, whereas a smaller "leeward 'fin'" would be added that would simply be used as a leg and not be steerable. The large fin at the bottom could also help produce drag, crucial for Starship's controlled descent. Stability during takeoff and landing would be controlled by the rapid movement of rear and forward fins, as well as the Starship's Attitude Control System (ACS) thrusters.
SpaceX will be able to refuel Starship in space with another vehicle filled with propellant that could launch from the moon powered only by its own Raptor engines.
Super Heavy Rocket
Starship will attach above the, stainless steel, Super Heavy rocket booster to exit Earth's atmosphere. While in space, Super Heavy will un-attach from starship to return and land vertically back on Earth in order to be reused.
The Super Heavy booster will have actuated (steerable) grind fins near the top of the rocket, which will be used for its controlled landing. Similar to the ones found on the Falcon 9 rocket that SpaceX uses today.
Super Heavy will have 6 landing legs, a diameter of 9 meters, and a height of 68 meters.
The number of engines could vary from flight to flight. Elon Musk said the rocket has space for up to 37 Raptor engines and each mission will probably require at least 24 Raptors.
It will have a propellant capacity of a massive 3,300 metric tons. A thrust capability of 72 meganewtons (MN). Which will make SpaceX's Starship the world's most powerful rocket compared to the thrust of 35 MN in the Saturn V rocket, that took humans to the moon during NASA's Apollo mission.
Starship and Super Heavy together, will have a height of 118 meters, a diameter of 9 meters, and be a completely reusable transportation system.
SpaceX developed the Raptor, full-flow, staged combustion rocket engine, to make fuel more efficient, powerful and affordable --set to decrease in price as production scales. Musk said:
“Other rocket engines were designed for no (or almost no) reuse. Raptor is designed for heavy and immediate reuse, like an aircraft jet engine, with inspections required only after many flights, assuming instrumentation shows it good. Using hydrostatic bearings certainly helps.”
Each Raptor is 1.3 meters in diameter, with a height of 3.1 meters, and an individual engine has a thrust capability of 2 MN. Raptors are powered by cryogenic methane and liquid oxygen (LOX). Which can be made on Mars upon arrival by taking carbon dioxide from the planets atmosphere and subsurface water.
So future Martians will have the option of building a propellant plant to refuel and return to Earth.
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.