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posted by martyb on Monday September 30 2019, @12:00PM   Printer-friendly
from the about-twice-the-thrust-of-a-Saturn-V dept.

SpaceX's "completed" Starship Mark 1 (Mk1) prototype was unveiled during an update presentation in Boca Chica, Texas on Saturday. The craft has two less-prominent aft fins instead of the three larger fins (acting as landing legs) seen in previous renderings, and two small fins on the nosecone. An upcoming 20 kilometer test flight of Mk1 will only use three sea level optimized Raptor engines, while the full version of Starship will use three sea level and three vacuum optimized Raptor engines. The dry mass of Starship will be higher than initially expected: about 100-120 tons instead of 85 tons (Mk1 is 200 tons). Payload to low Earth orbit (LEO) in fully reusable mode will start out near 100 tons but is expected to reach 150 tons.

SpaceX is currently making one new Raptor engine every 8-10 days, but hopes to speed that up to one engine every day in Q1 2020. The process of building Starships will also speed up due to unspooling steel and using single seam welds (giant rings of steel will still be joined together, but without the plates seen in Mk1). A Starship Mk3 could be completed within 3 months, and a Starship Mk3, Mk4, or Mk5 (with the Super Heavy booster) could reach orbit within 6 months from today. It may not be possible to get a Starship to orbit by itself, but even if it could, it would be expendable and not worth it. Therefore, orbital tests will depend on the rate of Raptor engine production. Around 100 engines will need to have been made by the time of the first test. Super Heavy could use as few as 24 engines to complete a mission, but is more likely to use 31, or a maximum of 37 engines. The amount is configurable as needed.

Elon Musk claimed that SpaceX could launch people on a Starship as early as next year, and that in-orbit refueling (called "orbital refilling" during the presentation) of Starship will be easier than docking with the International Space Station. The refueling process is necessary to get the full 100-150 tons of payload to the surface of the Moon, Mars, or other solar system destinations.

Musk estimated that a small fleet of 10-20 Starships could launch about 1,000 to 10,000 times as much mass to orbit in a year than is currently launched with all of the world's rockets annually, including SpaceX's Falcon 9/Heavy.

Also at NASASpaceFlight, Ars Technica,, and CBS.

See also: r/SpaceX Starship Presentation Official Discussion & Updates Thread
SpaceX debuts Starship's new Super Heavy booster design
SpaceX envisions Starship-enabled cities on the Moon and Mars in new renders
Tesla on Mars addressed by Elon Musk in SpaceX's Starship Q&A session

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Related Stories

The SpaceX Starship Pushback: NASA Administrator's Scolding and More 18 comments

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine issued a statement seen as chiding SpaceX prior to the company's Starship update presentation:

Specifically, Bridenstine (or whoever fed him the statement) went out of his way to make it entirely one-sided in its focus on SpaceX. By all appearances, it would have never been posted if not for Elon Musk's plans to present on Starship. Bridenstine additionally notes that "Commercial Crew is years behind schedule" and indicates that "NASA expects to see the same level of enthusiasm focused on [its] investments".

Altogether, it's simply impossible to interpret it as anything less than Bridenstine scolding SpaceX – and SpaceX alone – for not falling to the floor, kissing NASA's feet, and pretending that Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 are the only things in existence. Absent from Bridenstine's criticism was NASA's other (and even more delay-complicit) Commercial Crew Partner, Boeing, who has yet to complete a pad abort or orbital flight test of its Starliner spacecraft. SpaceX completed Crew Dragon's pad abort in 2015 and completed a flawless orbital flight test in March 2019.

[...] [As] Musk noted in his relatively subtle September 28th responses to Bridenstine's implicitly derisive comment, something like 50-80% of the entirety of SpaceX's workforce and resources are focused on Crew Dragon, the Falcon 9 rockets that will launch it, or a combination of both. At present, Starship is – at most – a side project, even if its strategic importance to SpaceX is hard to exaggerate. The same is largely true for Starlink, SpaceX's ambitious internet satellite constellation program. It may be true that Starship will eventually make Crew and Cargo Dragon (as well as Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy) wholly redundant, but that is likely years away and SpaceX will support NASA – as it is contractually required to – for as long as the space agency has vested interest in using Crew Dragon.

[...] It would be another two years before Congress began to seriously fund Commercial Crew at its requested levels, beginning in FY2016. In response to Bridenstine, former NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver noted that over the ~5 years Congress consistently withheld hundreds of millions of dollars of critical funds from Commercial Crew, NASA's SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft were just as consistently overfunded above and beyond their budget requests. From 2011 to 2016 alone, SLS and Orion programs requested $11B and received an incredible $16.3B (148%) from Congress, while Commercial Crew requested $5.8B and received $2.4B (41%).

SpaceX's Starship Can Launch 400 Starlink Satellites at Once 21 comments

SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell has revealed that Starship can carry 400 Starlinks satellites into orbit, up from the 60 recently launched using a Falcon 9 rocket. The cost per launch may be negligible:

Beyond Shotwell's clear confidence that Starlink's satellite technology is far beyond OneWeb and years ahead of Amazon's Project Kuiper clone, she also touched on yet another strength: SpaceX's very own vertically-integrated launch systems. OneWeb plans to launch the vast majority of its Phase 1 constellation on Arianespace's commercial Soyuz rockets, with the launch contract alone expected to cost more than $1B for ~700 satellites.

SpaceX, on the other hand, owns, builds, and operates its own rocket factory and high-performance orbital launch vehicles and is the only company on Earth to have successfully fielded reusable rockets. In short, although Starlink's voracious need for launch capacity will undoubtedly require some major direct investments, a large portion of SpaceX's Starlink launch costs can be perceived as little more than the cost of propellant, work-hours, and recovery fleet operations. Boosters (and hopefully fairings) can be reused ad nauseum and so long as SpaceX sticks to its promise to put customer missions first, the practical opportunity cost of each Starlink launch should be close to zero.

[...] Shotwell revealed that a single Starship-Super Heavy launch should be able to place at least 400 Starlink satellites in orbit – a combined payload mass of ~120 metric tons (265,000 lb). Even if the cost of a Starship launch remained identical to Starlink v0.9's flight-proven Falcon 9, packing almost seven times as many Starlink satellites would singlehandedly cut the relative cost of launch per satellite by more than the 5X figure Musk noted.

In light of this new figure of 400 satellites per individual Starship launch, it's far easier to understand why SpaceX took the otherwise ludicrous step of reserving space for tens of thousands more Starlink satellites. Even if SpaceX arrives at a worst-case-scenario and is only able to launch Starship-Super Heavy once every 4-8 weeks for the first several years, that could translate to 2400-4800 Starlink satellites placed in orbit every year. Given that 120 tons to LEO is well within Starship's theoretical capabilities without orbital refueling, it's entirely possible that Starship could surpass Falcon 9's Starlink mass-to-orbit almost immediately after it completes its first orbital launch and recovery: a single Starship launch would be equivalent to almost 7 Falcon 9 missions.

The Starlink constellation can begin commercial operations with just 360-400 satellites, or 1,200 for global coverage. SpaceX has demonstrated a 610 Mbps connection to an in-flight U.S. military C-12 aircraft. SpaceX is planning to launch 60 additional Starlink satellites in November, marking the first reuse of a thrice-flown Falcon 9 booster.

Also at CNBC.

Previously: Third Time's the Charm! SpaceX Launch Good; Starlink Satellite Deployment Coming Up [Updated]
SpaceX Provides Update on Starship with Assembled Prototype as the Backdrop
SpaceX Requests Permission to Launch an Additional 30,000 Starlink Satellites, to a Total of 42,000+
Elon Musk Sends Tweet Via SpaceX's Starlink Satellite Broadband
SpaceX: Land Starship on Moon Before 2022, Then Do Cargo Runs for 2024 Human Landing

Original Submission

Starship Prototype Mk1 Fails During Propellant Tank Loading Test: Onwards to Mk3 21 comments

SpaceX Starship Mk. 1 fails during cryogenic loading test

SpaceX's first full-scale Starship prototype – [Mark 1 (Mk. 1)] – has experienced a major failure at its Boca Chica test site in southern Texas. The failure occurred late in the afternoon on Wednesday, midway through a test of the vehicle's propellant tanks.

The Mk. 1 Starship – which was shown off to the world in September as part of SpaceX's and Elon Musk's presentation of the design changes to the Starship system was to fly the first 20 km test flight of the program in the coming weeks.

The main event of today, the Mk. 1 Starship's first cryogenic loading test, involved filling the methane and oxygen tanks with a cryogenic liquid.

During the test, the top bulkhead of the vehicle ruptured and was ejected away from the site, followed by a large cloud of vapors and cryogenic liquid from the tank.

There will be no attempt to salvage Starship Mk1, with focus instead shifting to Mk3 (in Texas) and Mk2 (in Florida):

Minutes after the anomaly was broadcast on several unofficial livestreams of SpaceX's Boca Chica facilities, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk acknowledged Starship Mk1's failure in a tweet, telegraphing a general lack of worry. Of note, Musk indicated that Mk1 was valuable mainly as a manufacturing pathfinder, entirely believable but also partially contradicting his September 2019 presentation, in which he pretty clearly stated that Mk1 would soon be launched to ~20 km to demonstrate Starship's exotic new skydiver landing strategy.

Musk says that instead of repairing Starship Mk1, SpaceX's Boca Chica team will move directly to Starship Mk3, a significantly more advanced design that has benefitted from the numerous lessons learned from building and flying Starhopper and fabricating Starship Mk1. The first Starship Mk3 ring appears to have already been prepared, but SpaceX's South Texas focus has clearly been almost entirely on preparing Starship Mk1 for wet dress rehearsal, static fire, and flight tests. After today's failure, it sounds like Mk1 will most likely be retired early and replaced as soon as possible by Mk3.

Above all else, the most important takeaway from today's Starship Mk1 anomaly is that the vehicle was a very early prototype and SpaceX likely wants to have vehicle failures occur on the ground or in-flight. As long as no humans are at risk, pushing Starship to failure (or suffering unplanned failures like today's) can only serve to benefit and improve the vehicle's design, especially when the failed hardware can be recovered intact (ish) and carefully analyzed.

Video of the rupture is available on NASASpaceFlight's forums. Start with this forum post and continue down the page for other pictures and videos.

Previously: SpaceX Provides Update on Starship with Assembled Prototype as the Backdrop

Related: The SpaceX Starship Pushback: NASA Administrator's Scolding and More
SpaceX's Starship Can Launch 400 Starlink Satellites at Once
Artemis Program Requires More Cash to Reach Moon by 2024; SLS Could Cost 1,000x More Than Starship

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 30 2019, @12:14PM (7 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 30 2019, @12:14PM (#900761)

    lots of dust gets kicked up when it lands on mars?

    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Monday September 30 2019, @02:15PM

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Monday September 30 2019, @02:15PM (#900795) Journal
      Somebody would be busy sweeping off those solar panels.
    • (Score: 4, Informative) by takyon on Monday September 30 2019, @02:39PM (5 children)

      by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {}> on Monday September 30 2019, @02:39PM (#900804) Journal

      Probably, but the Moon is where it could be a real big problem:

      NASA to help SpaceX, Blue Origin, and more develop technologies for Moon and Mars travel []

      Meanwhile, Blue Origin’s competitor SpaceX is also working with NASA through the ACO program to develop technologies that will be vital for the company’s future Starship rocket. The vehicle is currently being developed at SpaceX [] to take cargo and humans to deep space destinations. Now, SpaceX will be getting help from the agency to figure out how to land large rockets like Starship on the surface of the Moon, and the company will also study how much lunar dust these landings kick up [].

      They may want to land in a Moon crater to minimize how far the dust travels.

      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
      • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Monday September 30 2019, @04:05PM (4 children)

        by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Monday September 30 2019, @04:05PM (#900832) Journal


        Moon dust might require the ascent stage to be separated from the descent stage, as in Apollo.

        With modern TVs you don't have to worry about braking the yolk on the back of the picture tube.
        • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Absolutely.Geek on Monday September 30 2019, @11:43PM (3 children)

          by Absolutely.Geek (5328) on Monday September 30 2019, @11:43PM (#901037)

          A maglev train around the equator of the moon; say 50 - 100m off the surface would allow for ascent and landing. Orbital velocity at that height is fairly extreme (~1.6km/s) but there is no air resistance to worry about.

          For takeoff; speed the payload up with the "train" and release...use internal thrust from there.
          For landing; get the train up to speed release a spool of wire (or similar) and grab the incoming payload which would have had to get itself into a stable orbit before hand; and bring it down slowly; once attached to the "train" slow the whole thing down; storing the energy somehow (big flywheels?) for use in the next takeoff

          There would be little to no dust kicked up using this method; with proper scheduling multiple trains could run at once.

          Don't trust the police or the government - Shihad: My mind's sedate.
          • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Saturday October 05 2019, @03:17AM (2 children)

            by Immerman (3985) on Saturday October 05 2019, @03:17AM (#902922)

            An alternative if we're talking megastructures:

            A beanstalk space elevator going through the L1 point. *Much* easier than on Earth, could be done with existing carbon-fiber cables, and conveniently also provides a "railroad" between the surface of the moon and the L1 point - what could be built in orbit with a steady stream of moon dust and a lens big enough to melt it together?

            • (Score: 2) by Absolutely.Geek on Sunday October 06 2019, @07:29PM (1 child)

              by Absolutely.Geek (5328) on Sunday October 06 2019, @07:29PM (#903470)

              Agreed; a space elevator could work on The Moon; and I have always been partial to the idea.

              But a train is in my opinion; significantly easier to construct. Power from a few square kilometers of panels at the poles that are always illuminated.

              The train idea came from looking at the orbital ring idea; []; and modifying it for the moon, it could be used for transport to different places on the moon also.

              Don't trust the police or the government - Shihad: My mind's sedate.
              • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Sunday October 06 2019, @11:15PM

                by Immerman (3985) on Sunday October 06 2019, @11:15PM (#903510)

                Is it really though? To construct a train useful for orbital launch you have to create a pretty frigging straight railway - which means carving tunnels and valleys, and building bridges, across ~11,000km of radiation-blasted hard vacuum to build something far straighter than any railway on Earth, across far more dramatic landscape. And then you have to build far the longest maglev track ever built, under those same harsh conditions.

                Compare to a beanstalk, where you have to ship cable segments to the current ends of cable extending in both directions from L1, and bolt them on. Along with providing a bit of propulsion at L1 to keep the center of mass from drifting too far toward either planet(oid) - or alternately, just deploying the new cable tip sections in a controlled fashion, extending deeper into one gravity well or the other to pull the center of mass back into alignment.

                Now, an orbital ring idea has potential, except that simple lunar orbits tend to be quite unstable, though perhaps the ring itself could be harnessed in some self-stabilizing manner, where an isolated satellite could not. (My personal favorite is a skyhook with a multi-km crane on the end - capable of hooking stationary payload directly from the moon's surface, and lobbing it, at the extreme, beyond the orbits of either Mars or Venus.. Sadly the stabilization issue strikes that one hard, but there might be a low-propellant solution if someone looks hard enough)

                Of course, I suddenly realize that there's no particular reason you'd need a moon-circling railway for launch. With 1G of acceleration, and a 2.4km/s escape velocity on the moon, you need a track length of only
                s = 1/2*v^2/a... or (2400m/s)^2/9.8m/s^2 = 294km. That's a lot easier to provide than 11,000km, and we could probably find lots of relatively flat areas to install such a railway without requiring huge earthwork projects. We could do even better though, if higher acceleration is acceptable. At 2G we need only 143 km of straight rail, at 10G, 30km.

                At the other end of the power spectrum, allowing for vastly weaker maglev systems, we could build maglev launch rings, but you really need to be able to handle extremely high centripetal accelerations for those to make sense: 1G of centripetal acceleration requires a radius of r=v^2/a = 587km . But if you could handle 100G (such as inert payload) you could get away with as little as 37km of track in a 12km ring, and the track need only provide very gradual linear acceleration. And if you added a 6km tether to provide the bulk of the centripetal force, the maglev track need supply only very small stabilizing support forces as well - allowing for the possibility of (relatively) cheap, compact bulk launch facilities. Provided your launch pods could survive the stress of course. And of course, a round track is a lot less forgiving for landings - and if you can do landings then you can potentially recapture much of the launch energy during deceleration, needing only provide energy generation for whatever net mass-flow there is away from the moon.

  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by isostatic on Monday September 30 2019, @02:24PM (6 children)

    by isostatic (365) on Monday September 30 2019, @02:24PM (#900797) Journal

    What amazes me is that in the next 10 years we could well see a steel rocket landing vertically on mars (and/or moon), looking like something straight out of 1930s scifi.

    • (Score: 4, Interesting) by takyon on Monday September 30 2019, @02:57PM (1 child)

      by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {}> on Monday September 30 2019, @02:57PM (#900809) Journal

      I heard that they won't look like charcoal briquettes like reused F9 boosters do. There may be an effort to keep it that way since shiny = better at reflecting heat.

      The appearance will start to shape up with the new welding method (also making them a lot thinner and lighter) and wrinkles will disappear once they are filled with propellant.

      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
      • (Score: 5, Interesting) by Immerman on Monday September 30 2019, @03:29PM

        by Immerman (3985) on Monday September 30 2019, @03:29PM (#900815)

        > There may be an effort to keep it that way since shiny = better at reflecting heat.

        Quite possibly.

        A big part of it though is probably just that methane burns a LOT cleaner than kerosene. All that charcoally buildup on the outside of the rocket is unsightly - but the same stuff is also building up *inside* the engine, where it can cause major problems (clogging, jamming, etc) if left uncleaned. Part of the motive for moving to methane is that methane causes dramatically less of that "coking" in the engine, and thus has dramatically lower maintenance requirements. Less buildup on the outside skin might just be a minor bonus of no great significance.

    • (Score: 2, Funny) by khallow on Monday September 30 2019, @03:48PM (1 child)

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Monday September 30 2019, @03:48PM (#900823) Journal
      Like God and Heinlein intended.
      • (Score: 5, Funny) by DannyB on Monday September 30 2019, @04:02PM

        by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Monday September 30 2019, @04:02PM (#900831) Journal

        I didn't think Asimov thought of himself as God.

        With modern TVs you don't have to worry about braking the yolk on the back of the picture tube.
    • (Score: 2) by PartTimeZombie on Monday September 30 2019, @08:42PM (1 child)

      by PartTimeZombie (4827) on Monday September 30 2019, @08:42PM (#900981)

      ...looking like something straight out of 1930s scifi...

      Where it will promptly be attacked by the minions of a Galactic Emperor.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 01 2019, @02:41AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 01 2019, @02:41AM (#901098)

        Emperor Ming who looks suspiciously Chinese.

  • (Score: 2) by takyon on Wednesday October 02 2019, @03:30AM

    by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {}> on Wednesday October 02 2019, @03:30AM (#901694) Journal