SpaceX is truly a leader in aerospace innovation. The company has developed some of the most technologically advanced rockets and spacecraft. The Falcon 9 rocket’s first-stage booster is capable of returning from space, it performs controlled vertical landings on an autonomous drone ship at sea. No other rocket company has achieved landing orbital-class rockets. Last month, SpaceX successfully deployed a pair of NASA astronauts aboard its Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station for the first time. SpaceX officially returned human spaceflight capabilities to the United States.
SpaceX is in the initial phase of developing the next-generation spacecraft – Starship. Starship will be a fully reusable transportation system capable of transporting tons of cargo to Earth orbit, as well as performing long-duration missions to the Moon and Mars with 100 passengers aboard.
Starship will be a two-stage launch vehicle consisting of a spacecraft optimized for traveling in the vacuum of space and a Super Heavy rocket booster, which will only be needed to propel the spacecraft out of Earth’s atmosphere (pictured above). Super Heavy will have the capability to return to Earth like a Falcon 9 rocket, to be reused. Starship is designed to be fully reusable to reduce the cost of spaceflight. Both stages Raptor engines will be powered by sub-cooled methane and liquid oxygen. “Starship is designed to evolve rapidly to meet near term and future customer needs while maintaining the highest level of reliability,” the company stated.
Starship is actively 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 simultaneously building three Starship prototypes, referred to by serial number: Starship SN5, Starship SN6, and a scaled-down Starship dome tank SN7. Engineers aim to develop a craft that could withstand high stress of pressurized propellant and flight. SN7 is expected to undergo a pressurization test, the scaled-down test tank is currently at the launch pad, as SN5 is actively under assembly. Starship SN5 will be transported to the launch pad too. It will undergo a series of pressurization tests. If the tests go well, the craft is expected to conduct a debut test flight of 150-meters If the tests destroy SN5, Starship SN6 will repeat the same series of tests. The test vehicle that passes all pre-flight preparations will conduct a debut flight. The company aims to conduct a 20-kilometer flight this year, then attempt to take the craft to orbit at around 100-kilometers.
The company says Starship will have the "capability to transport satellites, payloads, crew, and cargo to a variety of orbits and Earth, Lunar, or Martian landing sites." SpaceX will manufacture a couple of versions of Starship: a "Crew Configuration" and "Cargo Configuration". Also, a Starship “Lunar Lander” and a Starship designed for trips to Mars.
STARSHIP CREW CONFIGURATION
SpaceX was founded with the ultimate goal of making life multi-planetary – “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. The common area will feature large windows and private rooms could host three 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 CARGO CONFIGURATION
Starship’s cargo configuration will not feature windows, it will be fully enclosed; capable of deploying over 100 tons 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. SpaceX’s Starship 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.”
Starship will be refueled in low-Earth orbit with another Starship designed to simply carry propellant, 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."
STARSHIP DESIGNED FOR MARS
The Starship designed for Mars, is the current design SpaceX is working on at Boca Chica. The vehicle features aerodynamic fins that will be needed to navigate Mars’ atmosphere upon landing. This version of Starship will also feature a heat-shield to cross the atmosphere on Mars and upon return to Earth. It is designed to carry-out frequent voyages to enable a spacefaring civilization.
STARSHIP DESIGNED FOR THE MOON
Musk shared some details via Twitter about key differences between the Mars Starship and the Starship lunar lander. The Starship that will conduct missions to the moon is designed to carry out missions for NASA under its Artemis program which aims to take the first woman and the next man to the lunar surface in 2024. 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 above. “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 Mars and Earth voyages that will feature a heatshield, the Starships that will land on the moon will not return to Earth. Musk said these could be used as habitats to build a lunar base - “No need to bring early ships back. They can serve as part of moon base alpha.”
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.