SpaceX’s future rocket plans include landings on the moon and Mars, and company founder and CEO Elon Musk has shared some new renderings of …
SpaceX’s future rocket plans include landings on the moon and Mars, and company founder and CEO Elon Musk has shared some new renderings of what that will look like.
In addition to the two images showing the Starhopper standing upright on the two celestial surfaces, Musk tweeted an answer to at least one question regarding the future spacecraft.
Musk indicated that despite irregular terrain, Starhopper could handle landing and relaunching from a surface that is not perfectly flat, so would not necessarily need a landing platform.
The company is currently working with an initial test version of the stainless steel rocket, called the Starhopper, at its facility in Boca Chica, Texas. As a suborbital hopper, it is designed to make a series of vertical takeoffs and landings, similar to how the company tested a Falcon 9 rocket called the Grasshopper in 2012.
The Starhopper test rocket had its first test burn using the company’s Raptor engine last month in a tethered hop, moving just a few inches off the ground. It will eventually make more and more test flights with three Raptor engines at higher altitudes.
The company now uses Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets for all of its launches. The Starship is part of the eventual replacement for the Falcon rockets as well as the Dragon capsule.
The orbital Starship version of the rocket is targeting flights in 2020. That rocket would be capable of reaching Mars.
Starship is the name given to the second stage of SpaceX’s future rocket design. The first stage is now referred to as Super Heavy. The combination of the two had been referred to as the BFR before November, as in Big Falcon Rocket.
Musk said that the company is working on getting regulatory approval to launch the Starship and Super Heavy from both its Boca Chica facility as well as “Cape Kennedy, Florida” while building both vehicles simultaneously at both locations.
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SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has published the first official renders of the company’s updated stainless steel Starship, offering glimpses of the spacecraft …
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has published the first official renders of the company’s updated stainless steel Starship, offering glimpses of the spacecraft on both the Moon and Mars.
Although the designs of Starship and Super Heavy (formerly BFS and BFR) have shifted significantly over the past three years, the vehicle’s primary destinations have remained stable. Above all else, SpaceX remains focused on designing its next-gen rocket to be the best spacecraft ever built for transporting huge payloads and humans to the Moon, Mars, and ultimately throughout the solar system. The interplanetary future of Starship is currently an unknown quantity but SpaceX is already building the first full-scale orbital prototype and testing multiple finished versions of the Raptor engine that will power it.
As discussed earlier today, SpaceX has already completed a low-fidelity prototype of Starship known as Starhopper, designed to – per its namesake – perform low-altitude, low-velocity hop tests. Powered by Raptor, Starhopper also acts as a mobile test stand for the next-gen rocket engine meant to power both Starship and its Super Heavy booster. SpaceX’s current planning has delayed a vacuum variant of the engine for several years, instead choosing to standardize the same Raptor engine across both stages of BFR. Starship will feature seven Raptor engines producing ~14,000 kN (~3.2M lbf) of thrust, while Super Heavy’s latest iteration would require a 31 Raptors and produce a staggering 62,000 kN/14M lbf of thrust at liftoff.
That performance – theoretically making Starship/Super Heavy almost two times as powerful as Saturn V – is essential to support massive missions to Mars and the Moon while also enabling complete reusability of the rocket. SpaceX rightly judged that rapid, low-effort reusability is the only way to truly revolutionize the cost of access to orbit, at least for the indefinite future. This need itself piggybacks on CEO Elon Musk’s founding motivation: to make humanity a multi-planetary species and protect it against future mass-extinction events.
Musk has long viewed the Moon as a distraction to that goal, offering very little prospect of being more than a detour, but both NASA and the political apparatus currently controlling the US have decided that a rebranded Moon return is desirable. Repeating several nearly identical Moon return proposals from the last few decades, the political powers that be have yet to actually put any money where their mouths are. SpaceX and Musk have nonetheless jumped on the bandwagon, a pragmatic decision to hedge bets in case funding actually appears. Unsurprisingly, SpaceX is interested in any opportunity to acquire federal funding for its expensive Starship/Super Heavy/Raptor development programs.
In September 2018, SpaceX announced plans to send Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and 8-10 artists of his choice on the first Starship mission around the Moon. According to Musk, that could happen as early as 2023 but will necessarily be preceded by at least one uncrewed demonstration of Starship’s performance in deep space. Given the nominal reusability of Starship, the same spacecraft might perform both missions.
In the meantime, SpaceX is in the process of building the first orbital Starship prototype, although it’s unclear just how advanced the vehicle will be. Depending on how polished and successful SpaceX’s Starship Alpha (for lack of a better term) is, it’s conceivable that the spacecraft could be retrofitted or upgraded for actual demonstration missions to deep space or the Moon. To enable the long-term reusability of Starships, SpaceX will need to rely on in-orbit refueling by way of dedicated tanker launches. However, a lower-fidelity prototype that might otherwise be scrapped could be a prime candidate for a one-way Moon-impact or lunar-landing mission, reducing risk for future crewed or uncrewed Starship missions to the Moon before SpaceX has the facilities and hardware to support simultaneous Starship and tanker launches.
New renderings of SpaceX’s next-generation Starship rocket, shared by CEO Elon Musk on Twitter early today, show the shiny spaceship sitting on …
New renderings of SpaceX’s next-generation Starship rocket, shared by CEO Elon Musk on Twitter early today, show the shiny spaceship sitting on bare ground on the moon and Mars.
The artwork is similar to less shiny renderings that came out a couple of years ago when Musk laid out the architecture for the Starship launch system (which was then known as the BFR) at the International Astronautical Congress in Australia.
Since then, SpaceX has begun launch-pad tests of a Starship prototype nicknamed the Starship Hopper, or StarHopper, at the company’s Boca Chica facility in South Texas. There’s been a series of tethered test firings of the methane-fueled Raptor engine that’s destined to be used on Starship, reportedly including a 40-second firing that took place over the weekend.
Last December, Musk promised to provide a “full technical presentation” about the Starship program once the StarHopper starts flying. His release of updated renderings could be a signal that he’s gearing up for that presentation. The fact that today’s freshened-up renderings have numbers in the upper right corner suggests the slideshow is in the works.
SpaceX is targeting the early to mid-2020s for a Starship round-the-moon flight, as well as the start of Mars odysseys. But as Musk has said in the context of his other CEO job, at the Tesla electric-car company, “sometimes I’m not on time.”
Sharp-eyed fans picked up on the fact that the revised Starship moonscape shows the spaceship standing by itself, with no landing pad or other structures in the background. That sparked a question — and an answer:
How is going to safely land Spaceship without a landing zone? Can it tolerate landing & taking off on a not perfectly flat area? Moon surface is quite irregular.
For what it’s worth, Blue Origin has its own plans for a lunar lander, nicknamed Blue Moon, and we may hear more about that project on May 9. For folks who are fans of commercial space ventures as well as “Game of Thrones,” Starship vs. Blue Moon could be the new Starks vs. Lannisters.
According to regulatory documents seen by Prime Unicorn Index, SpaceX finished a $500M funding round begun in December 2018 and kicked off a …
According to regulatory documents seen by Prime Unicorn Index, SpaceX finished a $500M funding round begun in December 2018 and kicked off a second campaign seeking an additional $500M earlier this month.
Altogether, SpaceX appears to be on track to secure $1 billion in fresh capital in the last six months alone, a trend that that may well continue as the company pushes forth into new and capital-intensive phases of Starlink and Starship development. In Boca Chica, a flood of SpaceX engineers and technicians have descended on the area to build the first full-scale steel prototypes of Starship and the major facilities needed to support the vehicles, all from scratch. Across the West Coast of the US, a separate SpaceX team has simultaneously transitioned from prototyping and developing satellites to building a factory to mass-produce them and may be less than six weeks away from launching the first operational batch of Starlink spacecraft.
Giant rockets, giant funding
Both massive, perilous, and largely unprecedented ventures in their own right, Starship (formerly BFR) and Starlink also happen to be extremely capital-intensive, a more or less fundamental consequence of the stages of their development and expansion. Both spent many years in pure research and development phases, tinkering and experimenting with different ideas and technologies on the ground in an effort to conceptualize what exactly their final forms ought to be. This aspect of the BFR program has been extremely visible over the last three years as SpaceX and CEO Elon Musk’s goals underwent continuous semi-annual changes, often intentionally broadcasted to the public in livestreamed events.
After appearing to finally settle on the quasi-final form of BFR (renamed to Starship/Super Heavy), SpaceX has actually begun to build and test the first full-scale, integrated prototype of the spacecraft (Starhopper) and is simultaneously building what aims to be the first orbital Starship prototype. At the same time, its propulsion system of choice – known as Raptor – has entered into serial production back at SpaceX’s Hawthorne factory, while also supporting the first Starhopper hop test in early April and preparing to continue separate ground testing.
Thousands of satellites, billions of dollars
In February 2018, SpaceX successfully launched its first Starlink satellites, two prototypes meant to test a bevy of technologies the company was attempting to build (or at least utilize) for the first time. Despite hints and reports of some problems on orbit, SpaceX firmly holds that both satellites were extremely successful in their task of proving out new technologies like electric thrusters and phased-array antennas and are still safely operating today. Just four months after those prototypes launched, CEO Elon Musk took the extraordinary step of flying to Redmond, Washington to personally challenge a number of executives he believed were operating far too sluggishly. According to secondhand reports, many of them refused to expedite the program as Musk wanted them to, resulting in their immediate firings. The challenge that triggered the organizational upheaval: launch the first operational batch of Starlink satellites before the end of June 2019, twelve months away at the time.
Five months after Musk’s challenge, SpaceX submitted a request to the FCC to modify its original Starlink constellation license, halving the orbit of the first thousand or so satellites to 550 km (340 mi) and significantly simplifying the technology on the first several dozen to be launched. As a result of the strategic changes made, SpaceX is already planning to launch its first group of Starlink satellites as early as mid-May, with perhaps one or several additional launches on the books for 2019. To an extent, the first 75 Starlink satellites and their six ground stations will be a nearly full-fidelity second prototype. Instead of a minimalist development platform like Tintin A and B, the first 75 satellites should offer opportunities to actually test the operations of a large constellation of spacecraft while also demonstrating something close to the internet connectivity the full constellation is meant to offer.
Development to production
That SpaceX is attempting to raise huge amounts of capital should come as no surprise. For almost any commercial venture on Earth that is attempting to introduce a real product from nothing, the process of going from concept, design, and testing to building a final product at scale is both extraordinarily difficult and extremely expensive. Tesla famously went through “manufacturing hell” to go from Model 3 prototypes to a mass-producible finished product, while countless other ventures don’t even make it that far (i.e. vaporware). By far the most challenging aspect of this transition is moving from a phase focused predominately on development to one focused predominately on production.
Due to an extremely unorthodox approach to building the first steel Starship and Super Heavy prototypes, quite literally choosing to do so outside and without shelter, the BFR program is probably less extreme for the time being. However, the transformation needed for Starlink to progress is intense, requiring the satellite team to essentially build a factory from scratch and begin mass-producing high-performance satellites as quickly as possible. The 75-satellite buffer should ease the pain a bit and offer a sort of trial run as SpaceX makes that major transition, but the fact remains that an unprecedented number (thousands) of satellites will need to be built and launched at an equally unprecedented pace and cost-per-unit.
The $500M raised since December 2018 will likely be a major help for SpaceX’s often-shoestrung development programs. The decision to open a second $500M funding round just months after the first also bodes well for demand, indicating that it shouldn’t be long before this newest round is itself completed. Meanwhile, Starlink’s first-launch milestone is rapidly approaching, while SpaceX’s South Texas team continue to make progress on the first orbital-class Starship prototype. Onward and upwards
What’s Next for SpaceX: The Falcon Heavy is set to launch on Wednesday after 6:35 p.m. Eastern time from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, stationed at Launch Complex 39A. It will deliver Lockheed Martin’s Arabsat-6A satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit, designed to offer television and cellular services for the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.