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SpaceX's next-generation launch vehicle is a gigantic stainless-steel Starship that could become the world's most powerful rocket, capable of transporting 100 passengers and cargo to space destinations. Starship is under development at SpaceX's South Texas Launch Facility located in Boca Chica Beach. Engineers are actively manufacturing multiple prototypes of the spacecraft to test out. They will soon test out a vehicle, known as SN8 (pictured below), that will perform a test flight at an altitude of approximately 15-kilometers (50,000 feet). SpaceX officials state the company plans to test launch a Starship to orbit sometime in 2021. Before that, engineers aim to make flying and landing Starship prototypes routine in Texas.
"Starship is an extraordinary new vehicle capability," the President of SpaceX and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell said during the TIME100 Talks interview on October 22 (video below), "Not only will it decrease the costs of access to space, it’s the vehicle that would transport people from Earth to Mars. But it also has the capability of taking cargo and crew at the same time, and so it’s quite possible that we could leverage Starship to go to some of these dead rocket bodies — other people’s rocket’s, of course — basically pick up some of this junk in outer space," she said.
SpaceX is developing two variations of Starship, one for passengers and another for cargo. Starship’s cargo configuration will not feature windows, it will be fully enclosed; capable of deploying over 100 metric tons (220,000 pounds) of cargo. Its payload fairing will have a width of 8 meters and an extended volume capable of accommodating payloads as long as 22 meters. No other spacecraft currently operating is that large. This feature would enable companies to deploy entire constellations of satellites into low Earth orbit in a single launch.
"The standard Starship payload fairing is 9 m [meter] in outer diameter resulting in the largest usable payload volume of any current or in development launcher," SpaceX’s Starship User Guide states, "The Starship payload fairing is a clamshell structure in which the payload is integrated. Once integrated, the clamshell fairing remains closed through launch up until the payload is ready to deploy." This clamshell-like fairing could enable engineers to develop a machine to gather space junk in space and place all the orbital debris inside Starship's fairing to bring back to Earth for proper disposal. --"It’s not easy. It’s not going to be easy but I do believe that Starship offers the possibility of going and doing that and I’m really excited about it,” Shotwell stated.
"There are rocket bodies littering the space environment, and dead satellites littering the space environment," she said. Shotwell also told reporters SpaceX plans to be responsible with the way its deploying the Starlink satellite constellation to avoid creating more space debris in low Earth orbit. "We originally started this constellation at a much higher altitude...That was what we had applied our license to do, but when we found that satellites at that higher altitude could be in orbit for centuries or millennia, that didn’t sound great to us because there will always be failures of satellites," she said, "...So we’ve requested to bring the entire constellation to a lower altitude, so that the satellites decay much quicker and in fact we inject into a lower altitude, so if for whatever reason right after launch they’re not working well, they come to back to Earth. They break up, of course, but they basically leave their orbital positions very quickly," Shotwell explained.
SPACEX PRESIDENT TIME100 TALK
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.