Featured Image Source: SpaceX
SpaceX has developed the most technologically advanced spacecraft. The company's Falcon 9 rocket is 80% reusable, its first-stage rocket booster is capable of returning from space to perform a controlled vertical landing on autonomous drone ships at sea, with the power of its engines. Most aerospace companies fly a rocket once, then discard it. SpaceX is truly a leader in aerospace innovation. Now, SpaceX is leveraging its experience to develop a next-generation spacecraft, Starship. SpaceX released a Starship “User Guide” which provides insight into the future craft’s capabilities. “SpaceX’s Starship system represents a fully reusable transportation system designed to service Earth orbit needs as well as missions to the Moon and Mars. This two-stage vehicle—composed of the Super Heavy rocket (booster) and Starship (spacecraft) —is powered by sub-cooled methane and oxygen.”
The guide reads, “Starship is designed to evolve rapidly to meet near term and future customer needs while maintaining the highest level of reliability.” Starship’s Super Heavy rocket will only be needed to take the ship out of Earth’s atmosphere. The rocket would return to Earth, like a Falcon 9, in order to be reused. Starship is designed to become 100% reusable, which could significantly reduce the cost of spaceflight.
Starship is under development at the company’s South Texas facility located in Brownsville, Boca Chica Beach, TX. SpaceX engineers are manufacturing a production line of many stainless-steel Starships, to test out different features. Currently, they are building the fourth Starship prototype, referred to as, Starship SN4 (serial number). Engineers aim to develop a craft that could withstand high stress of pressurized propellant and flight. SN4 is actively under assembly, it will be transported to the launch pad soon to undergo a series of pressurization tests. If the tests go well, the craft is expected to conduct a debut test flight of 150 meters. The company aims to conduct a 20-kilometer flight this year, then attempt to take the craft to orbit.
According to Starship’s user guide, the final version of Starship will be capable of transporting one hundred passengers and over 100 tons of cargo to the lunar surface or Mars.
"Starship has the capability to transport satellites, payloads, crew, and cargo to a variety of orbits and Earth, Lunar, or Martian landing sites."
-Starship User Guide
Source: SpaceX User Guide
SpaceX will manufacture two versions of Starship: a “Crew Configuration” and “Cargo Configuration.” The user guide offers insight into the Starship that will be designed especially for crew. "SpaceX was founded with the goal of making life multiplanetary," it reads, "The Starship program is realizing this goal with the crew configuration of Starship." It will feature a 1,000 cubic meter cabin capable of accommodating 100 passengers. And have private rooms that could host 2 to 3 individuals comfortably. “The crew configuration of Starship includes private cabins, large common areas, centralized storage, solar storm shelters and a viewing gallery." According to Elon Musk, founder and chief engineer at SpaceX, a journey aboard Starship will be fun and feature a variety of entertainment, “...The crew compartment or the occupant compartment is set up so that you can do zero gravity games - you can float around. There will be movies, lecture halls, cabins, and a restaurant. It will be really fun to go. You are going to have a great time!” he says.
Starship’s cargo configuration will be capable of deploying over 100 tons of cargo. The user guide also details its payload fairing in the cargo configuration 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 user guide states –“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. 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.” [pictured above]
The document also details, Starship will be refueled in low-Earth orbit with another Starship, this enables long-distance voyages through deep space, carrying over 100 tons of cargo. "The maximum mass-to-orbit assumes parking orbit propellant transfer, allowing for a substantial increase in payload mass."
SpaceX’s goal is to transform humans into a multi-planet species, tons of cargo will be needed on the Martian surface to build a sustainable colony. “Starship was designed from the onset to be able to carry more than 100 tons of cargo to Mars and the Moon. The cargo version can also be used for rapid point-to-point Earth transport. Various payload bay configurations are available and allow for fully autonomous deployment of cargo to Earth, Lunar, or Martian surfaces.”
The point-to-point Earth transport is probably one of the most ambitious feats SpaceX will attempt. The company envisions a Starship that could act as an “airplane” and transport cargo, as well as passengers, to destinations on Earth. Imagine traveling aboard Starship from the United States and arriving to Europe in less than 30 minutes!
The user guide also details from where the massive spacecraft will depart. The company’s initial plan is to build launchpad accommodations at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and build a launch site at its South Texas facility in Boca Chica Beach.