On Monday, December 6, SpaceX founder Elon Musk participated in Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit where he was asked about the next-generation launch vehicle the company is developing in South Texas. “Starship is a hard, hard, hard, hard project,” he said. Starship is under development to achieve returning NASA astronauts to the Moon and sending the first humans to Mars. The launch vehicle consists of a spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket booster that will become the world's most powerful rocket, capable of propelling to orbit double the mass of the Saturn V rocket that took Apollo NASA astronauts to the lunar surface. Unlike Saturn V, SpaceX aims to create a fully-reusable Starship that will completely revolutionize space exploration. If achieved, Musk says that Starship will be “a profound revolution in access to orbit. There has never been a fully-reusable launch vehicle. This is the holy grail of space technology. It is the fundamental breakthrough that is necessary for humanity to become a spacefaring civilization.”
The aerospace company has been manufacturing and testing stainless-steel prototypes of the spacecraft Since 2019. Multiple vehicles conducted test flights into altitudes under 20-kilometers. Engineers are getting ready to conduct the first Starship orbital flight test sometime in January or February 2022. Starship “absorbs more of my mental energy than probably any other single thing,” Musk shared during the Summit's video conference. “But it is so preposterously difficult, that there are times where I wonder whether we can actually do this.”
The interviewer asked Musk why Starship is a hard project and Musk briefly explained the main reason why it has been difficult to develop the two-stage launch system. –“[…] We live on a planet where the gravity is actually very strong, we actually live on the densest planet in the Solar System, our atmosphere is very thick, and what this comes down to is that a typical orbital rocket might be able to put about 2% of its liftoff mass into orbit…” he said. “To my knowledge, no rocket has ever lifted about 4% of its liftoff mass to orbit,” adding that “In order to make a rocket fully reusable, you’ve got to basically create a rocket that can do about 4%, if not more than 4%, of its mass to orbit – which hasn’t happened before,” he explained.
“That means that you have to have ‘A pluses’ across the board, incredibly efficient engines, incredibly efficient structure, [etc] you do need scale… that’s why Starship is so gigantic,” he said. “[…] There’s so many things that have to be done” to have Starship and Super Heavy Booster be reusable, including creating a ‘super light heat shield’. “It’s incredibly difficult… many smart people have tried to do it before and no one has succeeded… most have kinda’ just given up halfway through,” Musk said. “But if full and rapid reusability can be achieved, it reduces the cost of access to orbit by a factor of 100 or more.” He reiterated that Starship should be as reusable as an aircraft or automobile, with the only maintenance being fuel. He says that reusability is necessary because it will make “the difference between humanity being a multiplanet species or a single-planet species… it’s really that big of a deal,” Musk said. You can watch the full Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit in the video below.
VIDEO: Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit With Elon Musk
Image Source: Tesmanian.com/Evelyn J. Arevalo @JaneidyEve via Twitter
Featured Image Source: SpaceX
About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
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.