USA Space Programs & Discussions

Rodeo

Contributor
Moderator
DefenceHub Diplomat
Messages
1,330
Reactions
31 5,066
Nation of residence
Turkey
Nation of origin
Turkey
After Thursday’s flight, Starship is already the most revolutionary rocket ever built

For fun, we could compare Starship as it exists today to other available rockets.


starship-2-800x455.jpg


One of the best things about spaceflight is its power to dazzle us.

I will never forget seeing the first images of Pluto and its moon Charon for the first time, with their vibrant colors and exotic geology. A world with super-sized ice volcanoes? Oh my. Similarly affecting were up-close views of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, revealed by Europe's Philae lander. And it is difficult to forget the harrowing footage of NASA's Perseverance rover landing on Mars.

But no space agency or company has dazzled us more in the last 10 years than SpaceX. The company produces moments of wonder and originality that are both breathtaking and full of promise. What SpaceX does best is provide us a glimpse into a tantalizingly close future.

And that happened again on Thursday with the third Starship launch.

Was that sci-fi?

The moment of true amazement came about 45 minutes into the flight, as Starship descended an altitude of 100 km and began entering a thicker atmosphere. For a couple of minutes, we were treated to unprecedented views of atmospheric heating acting on a spacecraft. It's one thing to know about the perils of plasma and compression as a spacecraft falls back to Earth at 27,000 km/hour into thickening air. It's another thing to see it.

Let's step back for just a moment to realize how these unprecedented views were possible.

Starlink terminals on the ship were sending signals to satellites in low-Earth orbit, which then sent them back to Earth. This is not a new idea. For the last 40 years, NASA has used a small constellation of Tracking and Data Relay Satellites to communicate with spacecraft, beginning with the Space Shuttle. Starship was able to communicate with these satellites upon its reentry, but it was only at a low data rate, and it dropped out as the plasma thickened. The Starlink connection remained longer and is what enabled the stunning video of reentry.

To accomplish this, SpaceX had to build a reusable rocket, the Falcon 9, which is capable of reflying many times. This enabled the company to launch more than 5,500 Starlink satellites and create a global network. (SpaceX operates, by a factor of 10, more satellites than any other company or country in the world). Because of this, it was able to produce unprecedented data and video of Starship's turbulent reentry.


The journey to reach this capability has produced many of those dazzling moments. There was that first land-based landing of the Falcon 9 rocket days before Christmas in 2015. It was followed a few months later by the first landing of a booster on a drone ship. (For me, this CRS-8 booster landing on a boat felt like the first actual sci-fi thing I'd ever seen in my life). There was Starman in orbit and the dual booster landing with the first Falcon Heavy launch. And so on.

These SpaceX moments feel like a portal opening into the future. That is their power. The first booster landings hinted at the possibility of reusing first stages. The dual booster landing suggested it could be done at scale. Today, we're seeing this promised future as some Falcon rockets fly 20 times, and SpaceX is likely to approach a truly unprecedented 150 launches this year. This high launch cadence enabled Starlink, through which SpaceX has delivered high-speed broadband around the world and in space.

What Thursday's revelatory reentry footage promises is a world in which launch is cheap and abundant. No longer will we need to worry so much about mass or volume, which have been tyrannical overlords to mission planners since the inception of spaceflight nearly seven decades ago.

Where Starship goes from here

This was the third test flight of Starship, and for the second time in a row, the Super Heavy booster completed a full-duration burn and executed a successful "hot staging" separation from the Starship upper stage. This is significant because it means the most powerful first stage ever built can now be considered operational.

SpaceX still hasn't quite mastered the art of landing this first stage. On Thursday, Super Heavy performed a flip maneuver and a boostback burn to reorient itself for a soft landing at sea. However, not all of the requisite Raptor engines relit for a landing burn, and the rocket exploded about 500 meters above the Gulf of Mexico.

This is fine progress for just the third test flight, and it seems reasonable to expect a soft landing at sea during the next mission or two. SpaceX has pretty much solved first-stage landings, with some 275 successes with its Falcon 9 rocket. Therefore, it would not surprise me to see the company land a booster back at its Starbase facility in South Texas this year. Reuse of these massive stages could begin in a year or two.

Starship will clearly take longer. It is the more difficult technology. Notably, the vehicle completed a full-duration burn on Thursday and could easily have put itself into a stable orbit around Earth. Just to put a fine point on this, Starship this week did what every rocket in history this side of the Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, and Space Shuttle has done before: achieved a nominal orbital insertion and lost its first and second stages.

The flight "failed" only because SpaceX is pushing Starship for full reusability. During its coast phase Thursday, the vehicle began to roll. This precluded an attempt to re-light the vehicle's Raptor engines in space, the company confirmed Thursday night.

So we're probably a flight or two from SpaceX understanding and controlling Starship in space. Still bigger questions surround the vehicle's ability to survive that fiery reentry with a (hopefully) reusable tile system. A fully reusable Starship upper stage is certainly years away.

Already an amazing vehicle

But even with those caveats, Starship is already the most revolutionary rocket ever built. Because of a relentless focus on costs and cheap building materials, such as stainless steel, SpaceX can likely build and launch a fully expendable version of Starship for about $100 million. Most of that money is in the booster, with its 33 engines. So once Super Heavy becomes reusable, you can probably cut manufacturing costs down to about $30 million per launch.

This means that, within a year or so, SpaceX will have a rocket that costs about $30 million and lifts 100 to 150 metric tons to low-Earth orbit.

Bluntly, this is absurd.

For fun, we could compare that to some existing rockets. NASA's Space Launch System, for example, can lift up to 95 tons to low-Earth orbit. That's nearly as much as Starship. But it costs $2.2 billion per launch, plus additional ground systems fees. So it's almost a factor of 100 times more expensive for less throw weight. Also, the SLS rocket can fly once per year at most.

Then there's the European Space Agency's Vega rocket. Its costs are roughly on par with a Starship that has a reusable first stage. For $37 million, with Vega, you get about 1.5 metric tons to low-Earth orbit. Again, that's a factor of 100 times less payload than Starship.

Perhaps you're beginning to understand the revolution that's underway with the Starship vehicle?

But it's not just the cost or the payload. It's the cadence. SpaceX has four more Starships, essentially, ready to go. We have already seen SpaceX's proficiency with the Falcon 9 rocket. Does anyone doubt we'll see double-digit Starship launches in 2025 and many dozens per year during the second half of this decade? Access to space used to be a rare commodity. What happens to our species and its commerce in space when access is not rare or expensive?

This is the future into which we got a glimpse this week.

 

Rodeo

Contributor
Moderator
DefenceHub Diplomat
Messages
1,330
Reactions
31 5,066
Nation of residence
Turkey
Nation of origin
Turkey
You know you could tag some of us, I entirely missed it.
My apologies. These tests have such significance that I sometimes automatically assume everyone already know about them.

Next time i'm gonna go overboard with it and chain-tag half of the forum 😂
 
Last edited:

Radonsider

Contributor
Messages
1,380
Reactions
13 2,603
Nation of residence
Turkey
Nation of origin
Bosnia & Herzegovina
Elon BS'ing again lol. Numbers always change when he tweets. He wrote that Starships height will increase by 10m, oh wait now it is 20 mete- oh I am sorry, it is now 30meters.



Yeah Starship is a cool vehicle but it needs to prove A LOT of things, it has only done the basics for now.

Heck, we don't even know if it can even carry 100T or how's booster going to fare the landing etc.


Elon oversells the Starship as an interplanetary expedition ship but in reality it can't even get to TLI without 8-16 refuel crafts. They definitely need a lot of time to fix issues like fuel boiling in space, especially a problem because of their type of fuel

However I am sure that Starship will be used for mass commercial space tourism and high payload injection into LEO ~200km.
They might use it to carry tugs for GEO insertion (there are some that can carry 8T's from LEO to GEO)
 

Rodeo

Contributor
Moderator
DefenceHub Diplomat
Messages
1,330
Reactions
31 5,066
Nation of residence
Turkey
Nation of origin
Turkey
Elon BS'ing again lol. Numbers always change when he tweets. He wrote that Starships height will increase by 10m, oh wait now it is 20 mete- oh I am sorry, it is now 30meters.



Yeah Starship is a cool vehicle but it needs to prove A LOT of things, it has only done the basics for now.

Heck, we don't even know if it can even carry 100T or how's booster going to fare the landing etc.


Elon oversells the Starship as an interplanetary expedition ship but in reality it can't even get to TLI without 8-16 refuel crafts. They definitely need a lot of time to fix issues like fuel boiling in space, especially a problem because of their type of fuel

However I am sure that Starship will be used for mass commercial space tourism and high payload injection into LEO ~200km.
They might use it to carry tugs for GEO insertion (there are some that can carry 8T's from LEO to GEO)
True. It needs a lot of further development, iterations and testing. It has a pretty fluid development cycles till now. No prototype is the same with the previous. The numbers won't freeze for at least 5 years imo.

However, SpaceX has been building many prototypes. They already have multiple Starships ready to go. The approach is build fast, test fast, fail fast, mature fast.

Watch the video from 0:37

Imo, booster development and reuse will be fast. They could, potentially, start reusing boosters as soon as next year. The real trouble will be the second stage. It will have to nail reentry many times in a row. This will likely take years. The other issue is, as you pointed out, will be the on-orbit refueling. I don't know how long would it take them to figure that out.

If Starship solves the attitude control problem in the fourth flight and can relight raptors in space, then Starship is an operational vehicle. SpaceX will regularly use it to launch Starlink satellites and test the system meanwhile. We could see a reusable second stage in a few years.
 

Radonsider

Contributor
Messages
1,380
Reactions
13 2,603
Nation of residence
Turkey
Nation of origin
Bosnia & Herzegovina
True. It needs a lot of further development, iterations and testing. It has a pretty fluid development cycles till now. No prototype is the same with the previous. The numbers won't freeze for at least 5 years imo.

However, SpaceX has been building many prototypes. They already have multiple Starships ready to go. The approach is build fast, test fast, fail fast, mature fast.

Watch the video from 0:37

Imo, booster development and reuse will be fast. They could, potentially, start reusing boosters as soon as next year. The real trouble will be the second stage. It will have to nail reentry many times in a row. This will likely take years. The other issue is, as you pointed out, will be the on-orbit refueling. I don't know how long would it take them to figure that out.

If Starship solves the attitude control problem in the fourth flight and can relight raptors in space, then Starship is an operational vehicle. SpaceX will regularly use it to launch Starlink satellites and test the system meanwhile. We could see a reusable second stage in a few years.
You are on point with these, but Elon has now unlocked schizo mode and claims 400T expendable payload to LEO (lol, when it cant reach orbit with full fuel load tbh)
 

Rodeo

Contributor
Moderator
DefenceHub Diplomat
Messages
1,330
Reactions
31 5,066
Nation of residence
Turkey
Nation of origin
Turkey
Elon Musk has given a talk at Starbase.

Some interesting notes:

Flight 4 in a month or so. Aim to get through the high heating regime. Into the ocean at a controlled spot - a virtual tower (soft water landing technique).

If that works, "Flight 5 will land on the Tower" (catch the booster with the chopsticks).

99 percent of all mass from Earth to orbit when Starship is flying (fully operational).

Goal to get 200 tons to orbit with full reusability.

Two pinpoint soft landings are required for Ship for catches. Maybe next year.

Two Towers by sometime next year. Two at Starbase. Two at the Cape - first operation middle of next year (will be 39A).

Planning to build another roughly six boosters and ships and that production rate will increase a lot next year. That's why we're building the giant factory.

Per Mars, need more ships than boosters. - "aim to ramp production to pretty high numbers, ultimately probably a ship every, like multiple ships per day".

Next year aiming to demonstrate ship-to-ship propellant transfer.

Lunar Starship - "we need landing legs. And you don't need a heat shield and you don't need flaps because there's no atmosphere. So the Moon ship would be specialized".

Performance - "we've made dramatic progress on every level for Starship has evolved from, you know, optimistically 185 tons to 280".

"We'll aim to get the booster engines over 330 tons of thrust, which would mean 10,000 tons of total thrust at liftoff. Raptor 3 also will not need a heat shield".

Cost: "The Starship 3 (much taller version) will be 400 times more payload for less than the cost of a Falcon 1. Ultimately, I think we might be able to get the cost per flight to Earth orbit down to around $2 million or $3 million".

Lots about Mars Base Alpha.

Long-term - "we'll probably have some offshore launch sites".

 

Follow us on social media

Top Bottom