SpaceX will initiate the development of Starship Super Heavy 'booster prototype one'

SpaceX will initiate the development of Starship Super Heavy 'booster prototype one'

Featured Image Source: SpaceX 

Chief Engineer Elon Musk founded SpaceX with the goal to enable humans to live on Mars. The aerospace company is developing its next-generation launch vehicle in South Texas at Boca Chica Beach. According to SpaceX, Starship will be the most powerful rocket in the world; It will be a 120-meter-tall, two-stage launch vehicle consisting of a spacecraft capable of carrying one hundred passengers, and a Super Heavy booster used to propel the craft out of Earth’s atmosphere.

During the Humans To Mars teleconference that took place on Tuesday, Musk said Starship’s Super Heavy “booster prototype one” will initiate construction “this week.” SpaceX Boca Chica teams are building multiple Starship prototypes at the assembly facility, where gigantic vehicle assembly buildings are taking shape to accommodate the massive stainless-steel rocket booster.  – “Making a prototype of something is, I think, relatively easy,” he said, “But building the production system so that you can build ultimately hundreds or thousands of Starships, that’s the hard part.”

Starship is powered by a new type of engine designed and manufactured by SpaceX - the Raptor, It is a full-flow staged combustion engine fueled by sub-cooled liquid methane (CH4) and liquid oxygen (LOX) propellants. No rocket’s in operation use this type of fuel. SpaceX developed the Raptor with Mars in mind; astronauts will be capable of refueling Starship to return to Earth. Upon arrival to the Red Planet, they could extract carbon dioxide (CO2) from the Martian atmosphere and subsurface ice-water (H2O) to synthesize methane and liquid oxygen through the Sabatier process and electrolysis. “Together the Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket create a reusable transportation system capable of on-orbit refueling and leveraging Mars’ natural H2O and CO2 resources to refuel on the surface of Mars,” SpaceX states.



Starship’s design has changed a couple of times over the past two years; previously, Super Heavy’s design featured 31 Raptor engines, Musk said this week – “We might have fewer than 31 engines on the booster, because we’re trying to simplify the configuration… It might be 28 engines. It’s still a lot of engines.”

Starship will feature 6 Raptor engines, 3 sea-level Raptors for atmospheric flight, and 3 vacuum-optimized Raptors for propulsion in space. Today, SpaceX released a photograph of a vacuum engine, pictured above. "The first Raptor Vacuum engine (RVac) for Starship has shipped from SpaceX’s rocket factory in Hawthorne, California to our development facility in McGregor, Texas," the company wrote via Twitter. Musk shared that a Raptor could eventually achieve a thrust-to-weight ratio of 200 and that over time a Starship will be capable to launch over 100 tons of cargo. “By any measure, the high thrust variant of Raptor will probably have the high thrust-to-weight ratio of any engine ever,” he stated. According to SpaceX’s website, Super Heavy will have “a gross liftoff mass of over 3 million kg.”

Musk also shared the Super Heavy "Booster design has shifted to four legs with a wider stance (to avoid engine plume impingement in vacuum), rather than six." The rocket booster will have the capability to return from space and perform a controlled landing powered by its Raptor engines. It will land on its legs, like the company’s Falcon 9 rocket. Falcon 9 is the first orbital-class rocket in the world that has successfully landed over 50 times, but it is only 80% reusable. SpaceX aims to develop a fully reusable Starship launch system.



Yesterday, September 3, SpaceX teams conducted a test flight of the Starship SN6 prototype (video above). It is the second vehicle to take flight this year. SN6 soared approximately 150-meters off the ground powered by a single Raptor engine. Engineers will conduct many test flights with multiple Starship prototypes until flights become routine. Musk hopes to launch a Starship vehicle to orbit by 2021 – “I hope we do a lot of flights. The first ones might not work. This is uncharted territory… Nobody’s ever made a fully reusable orbital rocket,” he added.

About the Author

Evelyn Arevalo

Evelyn 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.

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