On the 11th anniversary of the first successful orbital launch of Falcon 1, SpaceX’s first rocket, Musk put down his plan for interplanetary travel at the company’s South Texas test site on September 28. He announced it while standing under a tall Starship Mk1, a sample for SpaceX’s huge reusable launch system.
The new type of Starship and its Super Heavy booster will be able to transport up to 100people to the Mars, moon or other stopovers in space or around Earth, he said. With a height of 387feet (118meters) it will be completely reusable, with quick reversals.
This is the rocket that will take off the billionaire Japanese tycoon Yusaku Maezawa and a few artists on a journey around the moon in the 2020s. SpaceX disclosed that planned space tourist trip last year, however did not reveal how much Maezawa paid.
“This is, I think, the most exciting thing I have ever seen,” Musk told a crowd of about 200 SpaceX employees, reporters and guests, at the company’s site close to Boca Chica Village, just outside of Brownsville. “Wow, what an unbelievable job by such a great team to build this incredible vehicle. I’m so delighted to work with such a great team.”
Later, Musk thanked Maezawa for his support. The billionaire has donated an untold amount to SpaceX to assist Starship’s development.
Since the inception of SpaceX in 2002, Musk has long said that the primary goal of SpaceX, has been to help make humankind a multi-planet species. The company has made reusable Falcon Heavy rockets and Falcon 9, with the addition of a new Crew Dragon ship for astronauts and reusable Dragon cargo capsules. It has launch pads in California, Florida and now Boca Chica, where the company laid its first stone on its test site in 2014.
But Mars, Musk has said, has remained the actual goal.
“This is the fastest path to a self-sustaining city on Mars,” he said Saturday night, speaking of the Starship-Super Heavy architecture.
SpaceX’s Starship conception has gone through a kind of speedy growth in the three years since Musk first made it public in September 2016 at the International Astronautical Union meeting in Mexico.
At that meeting, Musk showed what he called the Interplanetary Transport System, or ITS, for Mars settlement. The ITS called for an entirely reusable spacecraft with two fins and booster that would stand 400 feet (122 m) high when brought together. Its first stage would have 42 next-generation Raptor engines, and the booster would be 40 feet (12 m) wide. The spacecraft would have nine Raptors. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets have nine Merlin engines in their initial stage. Falcon Heavy first stages have 27 Merlins.
Musk upgraded the design in 2017, naming it the Big Falcon Rocket, or BFR for short. That plan titled for a launch system that would stand 348 feet (106 meters) tall and 30 feet (9 m) wide. Its booster would have 31 Raptor engines, while on the top of the spacecraft, it would have six.
Then, in 2018, Musk disclosed yet another design called Starship: a smooth, stainless-steel spacecraft with three tail fins that would stand larger than its 2017 forerunner, with a height of 387 feet (118 m). The shuttle would still be driven by six Raptor engines, with at least 37 Raptors powering the booster known as Super Heavy.
The shift to 301 stainless steel from a lightweight, but high cost, carbon fiber composite material, was a turn of the tide, Musk said. The steel gets sturdier the colder it gets, making it ideal for flights in the cold depths of space. It also has a higher melting point, making it more resistant during the sweltering return through Earth’s atmosphere.
It’s also way economical, about 2% the cost of carbon fiber, he added.
“Steel was the finest design decision on this whole thing,” Musk said.
This latest design has held to the present day; SpaceX is still aiming for a 387-foot-tall Starship-Super Heavy stack, with six Raptors on the spacecraft. The number of engines on Super Heavy could differ from flight to flight; Musk said the rocket has accommodation for up to 37 Raptors, and each task will perhaps call for at least 24.
“Starship will allow us to reside in other worlds,” Musk tweeted on Sept. 27. “To make life as we know it interplanetary.”
With the design figured out, SpaceX intends to move fast.
“This is going to sound absolutely nuts but I think we want to try to go to the orbit in less than six months,” Musk said. “Provided the rate of design development and manufacturing progress continues to be exponential, I think that is precise to within a few months.”
And people could start flying onboard the vehicle in the subsequent year or so if the test program continues to go well, he added. That seems to be an exceptionally fast-tracked program, given that SpaceX has not yet launched astronauts on its Crew Dragon spacecraft for NASA.
While Musk and SpaceX have been praised by their motivated push for a Starship proficient of deep-space travel, the road is still bumpy.
As the company brought up its testing with a smaller rocket, called Starhopper, recurrent road closures, publish hazard statements and other side effects of the program generated rage among some residents of Boca Chica Village, a close-by beachside community. SpaceX’s Starship Mk1, for instance, is just few feet from a key travel route, Boca Chica Boulevard, that leads to the village.
Earlier on Saturday, the avenue was the scene of a rotating gallery of spectators and SpaceX fans posing for photos and selfies with the Starship Mk1, even as SpaceX put the final touches on the 165-foot (50 m) vehicle.
Roy Paul, 78, of Mebane, North Carolina, flew to Houston and drove over seven hours with a nephew, niece and their five children from Beaumont to see the Starship Mk1.”I can sum up my first impression like this: ‘Ooo, Shiny!” he said. He’s a loyal space fan who goes as IonMars on NASASpaceflight.com forums.
According to Business Insider, this month, SpaceX suggested to buy out some Boca Chica Village residents after a short 500-foot (150 m) test ignited a brush fire at the test site.
On Saturday, Musk reaffirmed that SpaceX has wanted to buy out some Boca Chica residents. If SpaceX’s flight test rate holds, then Starship launches may become more disturbing to the village’s residents, he said.
Then comes the SpaceX’s other customers.
NASA is still lying in wait for SpaceX to complete the Crew Dragon spacecraft that will take astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The space agency has chosen SpaceX and Boeing to arrange for commercial crew flights to the station.
However, SpaceX did launch an unpiloted Crew Dragon trial flight to the space station this year, a following abort system test failed, leading to the damage of the vehicle. SpaceX wishes to continue abort system tests later this year before the first crewed test flight.
Apparently, Jim Bridenstine, the NASA Administrator, is not happy with the years-long postponements of Crew Dragon, as well as Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, specially after seeing SpaceX build Starship Mk1 this year before its own test flight.
“I am eager for the SpaceX announcement tomorrow,” Bridenstine tweeted on Friday. “In the intervening time, Commercial Crew is years behind the plan. NASA expects to see a similar level of dedication focused on the investments of the taxpayer. It’s time to deliver.”
On Saturday night, Musk guaranteed that SpaceX is dedicated to Crew Dragon for NASA, as well as flights for other customers. Only about 5% of SpaceX’s resources are apportioned to the Starship program, he said.
In the meantime, the city of Brownsville remains optimistic that SpaceX’s presence — and upcoming launches from Boca Chica — could be a blessing for the community.
The city’s mayor, Trey Mendez, a native of Brownsville and a lawyer, said that in the five years SpaceX has been at the Boca Chica site, the area has seen some tourists come to watch the rockets; however, such visits have not had a noteworthy influence on the city’s economy.
That could change, Mendez said, if SpaceX sets up consistent space launches from Boca Chica. But if the area remains a test spot, then the impact may not be as substantial as the city would like.
“Certainly I can say that the community is in general excited with the prospects that the space industry brings. And we’re happy to learn more about SpaceX’s plans out here,” Mendez told Space.com just hours before Musk’s presentation. “I positively hope that it is something that will have a measurable influence on our city because I would love to have that.”