SpaceX’s Starship will be a multipurpose launch vehicle, capable of returning astronauts to the Moon to build a permanent base and enabling humanity to build a sustainable colony on Mars. It is expected to become the world’s most powerful rocket-ship. “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 company said.
SpaceX’s Starship launch vehicle has many potential uses and capabilities that will enable access to space like never before. The cargo version of Starship will be able to launch entire satellite constellations in a single launch inside its payload bay. For perspective, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 can carry up to 60 Starlink satellites in a tight configuration inside its 5.2-meter diameter fairing, Starship will be able to carry 400 Starlink satellites to deploy in a single launch inside its fairing. Starship will be capable of deploying giant spacecraft to space inside its clamshell-like fairing, which has an outer diameter of 9-meters –“the largest usable payload volume of any current or in development launcher,” the company says. SpaceX also plans to design an extended Starship volume capability for payloads requiring up to 22-meters of height.
Starship will also be able to capture satellites already in orbit to be repaired or brought back to be disposed of on Earth, according to SpaceX’s Starship User Guide. “Fully-reusable Starship and Super Heavy systems are expected to allow for space-based activities that have not been possible since the retirement of the Space Shuttle and Space Transportation System, or have never been possible before. With a fully reusable Starship, satellites can be captured and repaired in Orbit, returned to Earth, or transferred to a new operational orbit,” SpaceX’s vehicle guide says. This will be possible with Starship’s large clamshell-like cargo door mechanism that opens and closes, as shown in the image below. The clamshell door can be modified to “chomp up” old satellites and space junk orbiting Earth. “We can fly Starship around space and chomp up debris with the moving fairing door,” SpaceX founder Elon Musk said in July 2021.
Source: SpaceX Starship User Guide 2020
This clamshell-like fairing could enable engineers to develop a mechanism to gather satellites to repair, as well as pick up other orbiting objects that are no longer in use. SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell says Starship could help clean up space. “Starship is an extraordinary new vehicle capability… Not only will it decrease the costs of access to space, it’s the vehicle that would transport people from Earth to Mars,” Shotwell said last year, “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. “There are rocket bodies littering the space environment, and dead satellites littering the space environment. […] 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 said. As of today, there’s approximately 4,500 active satellites orbiting Earth operated by multiple organizations, businesses, and government agencies from around the world. There are 3,170 inactive dead satellites and around 35,000 debris objects - 70% of which are in low Earth orbit. All orbiting objects are tracked by the U.S. Space Command. SpaceX Starship could provide the world a unique opportunity to clean up outer space by bringing back defunct objects.
Featured Image Source: SpaceX