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posted by janrinok on Sunday October 27 2019, @07:21AM   Printer-friendly
from the ambitious dept.

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SpaceX wants to land Starship on the Moon before 2022, then do cargo runs for 2024 human landing – TechCrunch

Speaking at a quick series of interviews with commercial space company’s at this year’s annual International Astronautical Congress, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell shed a little more light on her company’s current thinking with regards to the mission timelines for its forthcoming Starship spacefaring vehicle. Starship, currently in parallel development at SpaceX’s South Texas and Florida facilities, is intended to be an all-purpose successor to, and replacement for, both Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, with a higher payload capacity and the ability to reach the Moon and eventually Mars.

“Aspirationally, we want to get Starship to orbit within a year,” Shotwell said. “We definitely want to land it on the Moon before 2022. We want to […] stage cargo there to make sure that there are resources for the folks that ultimately land on the moon by 2024, if things go well, so that’s the aspirational timeframe.”

That’s an ambitious timeline, and as Shotwell herself repeatedly stated, these are “aspirational” timelines. In the space industry, as well as in tech, it’s not uncommon for leadership to set aggressive schedules in order to drive the teams working on projects to work at the limits of what’s actually possible. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is also known for working to timelines that often don’t match up with reality, and Shotwell alluded to Musk’s ambitious goal setting as a virtue in another part of her on-stage interview at IAC.

“Elon puts out these incredibly audacious goals and people say ‘You’re not going to do it, you’ll never get to orbit, you’ll never get a real rocket to orbit, […] you’ll never get Heavy to orbit, you’ll never get Dragon to the station, you’ll never get Dragon back, and you’ll never land a rocket,'” she said. “So, frankly, I love when people say we can’t do it, because it motivates my fantastic 6,500 employees to go do that thing.”

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Related Stories

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

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  • (Score: 3, Funny) by Runaway1956 on Sunday October 27 2019, @09:36AM (3 children)

    by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Sunday October 27 2019, @09:36AM (#912360) Journal

    I love when people say we can’t do it

    Here, hold my beer!

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 27 2019, @05:13PM (2 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 27 2019, @05:13PM (#912460)

      Actually this is the only rationale for spending all these resources on going to the moon. Why should be transport cargo to the moon? So billionaires can take selfies. End of.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 27 2019, @07:16PM (1 child)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 27 2019, @07:16PM (#912502)

        Do you see humanity remaining, in its entire existence, on Earth indefinitely? Of course not. I think we can debate the order in which we ought engage in things, there's no doubt that a permanent presence on the moon is on the to-do list. Reasons are endless:

          - awesome space ship production/repair location - near 0g + near earth

          - great research location. for instance ground based telescopes can see as well as orbital telescopes due to no atmosphere, with the benefit of being much more maintainable

          - and yeah, tourism. of course it will be the wealthy at first as literally every single thing ever invented was. but over time, even blue collar Bob ought be able to take his holiday for a bit of moon poon.

        And countless others. I think Mars should be a higher priority because it actually has the potential for a self sustaining civilization (the moon is, surprisingly, damn brutal relative to Mars) but the moon does have certain advantages such as not being locked into a launch window that only occurs once every 2 years, not taking several months to get to, and all the good stuff that comes with those two - such as being able to make emergency evacuations, provide rare supplies, etc. The moon isn't really a stepping stone to Mars. Outside of the distance it's vastly more challenging in every way. So if we can setup some decent bases on the moon, Mars will be a cakewalk. Just a cakewalk that takes half a year to 'drive' to.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 27 2019, @11:24AM (3 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 27 2019, @11:24AM (#912379)

    So far, almost everything has focused on the vehicle itself and almost nothing has gone into (or at least, been revealed about) its ability to actually transport cargo or passengers.

    How will passengers and cargo that land on the Moon or Mars exit and re-enter the vehicle? If taking cargo to orbit, how will it be deployed? I haven't seen anything about cargo doors, robotic arms, etc. but it's going to need something. And it's going to impact the design of the payload somehow. Opening a fairing and releasing a satellite is well-understood. Deployment from a cargo bay is going to be more complicated, or at least different.

    Falcon heavy is 0 for 3 recovering the center booster core, and has a significant envelope of missions where the center core couldn't be recovered even in theory. So it makes sense that Starship would be more economical there. But I wonder whether it could replace Falcon 9, at least for missions where the Falcon 9 booster is recoverable, unless it carries multiple independent Falcon 9 equivalent payloads at once. Starship is always going to burn more fuel than Falcon, and while the Falcon's upper stage is not recoverable, with Starship you're putting a much more expensive vehicle at risk if something goes wrong.

    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Sunday October 27 2019, @11:56AM

      by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Sunday October 27 2019, @11:56AM (#912387) Journal

      At IAC last week they showed a rendering of how lunar cargo delivery would work: []

      There was also a render of a cargo variant carrying a LUVOIR telescope: []

      And here is an older render: []

      There will be multiple versions and we don't know exactly what they will look like, but you can expect that the fairing will not detach as with Falcon. It's also likely that the very first customers will be SpaceX (Starlink launches) and telecoms. Forget about passengers for the first couple of years.

      Falcon Heavy is a different beast. They attempt center core landing even when it is not guaranteed to work because of high velocity, low fuel. I think we will see successful center core landings in the future. The first attempts just aren't indicative of future success/failure. First was the very first attempt. Second was the SUCCESSFUL center core landing for Arabsat-6A. They just didn't secure it to the ship properly. And third was USAF STP-2: []

      The center core, in use for the first time, underwent the most energetic reentry attempted by SpaceX, and attempted a landing over 1,200 km (750 mi) downrange, 30% further than any previous landing. This core suffered a thrust vector control failure in the center engine caused by a breach in the engine bay due to the extreme heat. The core thus failed its landing attempt on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You due to lack of control when the outer engines shut down.

      Starship is pretty much overengineered (more payload to LEO than most customers need) which should give the booster plenty of room for return fuel in nearly every mission. And then multiple in-orbit refuels can be used to raise altitude of the Starship. For example, the booster could save some fuel, put the Starship in a slightly lower Earth orbit, where it would be refueled by a second Starship. That would save money over trashing a booster.

      Starship build cost may end up lower than Falcon 9 []. Not only is stainless steel much cheaper than carbon fiber, but it is easier to work with, as proven by the outside builds. Falcon 9/Heavy upper stage is essentially never recoverable, while Starship is fully reusable. Fuel costs are relatively low, possibly under $1 million for a single vanilla Starship launch. So there is basically no situation in which Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy is a better ride than Starship, unless the customer wants the time-tested rocket. The real risk right now is not losing the steel rocket bodies, but the Raptor engines. If they can increase the engine production rate, the risk could diminish, unless they end up destroying multiple Starship + Super Heavy boosters in a row.

      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
    • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Sunday October 27 2019, @01:56PM

      by Immerman (3985) on Sunday October 27 2019, @01:56PM (#912415)

      The aspiration, as I recall, is that Starship will be cheaper *per-launch* than Falcon 9. Which would make it the preferred vehicle even for a single small payload - and the size would let it deliver many other payloads to other orbits on the same flight.

      Starship+SuperHeavy will absolutely consume a lot more fuel per launch than Falcon - but fuel is a rounding error in the cost of launch - well under 1% for Falcon 9 as I recall. Most of the cost is building the rocket, followed by ground support. And Falcon 9 has very limited reusability, with engines that need frequent extensive servicing. I think the most any rocket has been reused at this point is three times. Which is great, it brings the dominant launch cost down to roughly 1/3rd of what it otherwise would be (plus refurbishment costs), but doesn't hold a candle to a fully reusable vehicle. Starship is designed to be reused dozens to eventually thousands of times with little to no servicing between flights. The Raptor Engine in particular was designed as a methane engine rather than more typical kerosene in part because methane burns much cleaner, virtually eliminating "coking" - the build-up of partially-burned fuel deposits within the engine.

    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Monday October 28 2019, @04:33PM

      by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Monday October 28 2019, @04:33PM (#912879) Journal []

      This article has a new Starship animation and some other new details about Starlink.

      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
  • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 27 2019, @12:46PM (3 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 27 2019, @12:46PM (#912399)

    Did Neil Armstrong require cargo before he landed? Fucking millennial astronauts.

    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Sunday October 27 2019, @01:04PM

      by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Sunday October 27 2019, @01:04PM (#912400) Journal

      Landing date July 20, 1969, 20:17:40 UTC
      Return launch July 21, 1969, 17:54:00 UTC

      That absolute coward Neil Armstrong didn't even spend a full day on the Moon.

      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
    • (Score: 3, Funny) by The Mighty Buzzard on Sunday October 27 2019, @02:54PM (1 child)

      by The Mighty Buzzard (18) Subscriber Badge <> on Sunday October 27 2019, @02:54PM (#912428) Homepage Journal

      Bleh, all Armstrong did was put the first foot on it. Aldrin was the first to pee on it, which by natural law means it belongs to him.

      My rights don't end where your fear begins.
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 27 2019, @05:45PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 27 2019, @05:45PM (#912473)

        So, in a roundabout way, you are saying the world belongs to the beer drinkers?

        I'll gladly drink to that! *tips frosty mug of amber goodness* Ahh!


  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 27 2019, @05:23PM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 27 2019, @05:23PM (#912464)

    also, if the rocket engine can land itself after take-off ... oh wait! it can already!
    so next, pioneering, maybe the engine could also have a (hopefully) 3-phase, wall socket?
    at least until we can scrap together enough helium-3?

    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Sunday October 27 2019, @05:37PM (1 child)

      by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Sunday October 27 2019, @05:37PM (#912468) Journal []

      They are just going to keep landing these things on the Moon until there's a graveyard of them, unless they gather up enough carbon and ice water for surface refueling.

      You can live inside a dead Starship.

      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
      • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Monday October 28 2019, @02:24AM

        by Immerman (3985) on Monday October 28 2019, @02:24AM (#912620)

        Only if they want to. Unlike for Mars, they don't need to refuel on the moon's surface to get back. You'd like to, it would be WAY more cost-effective, but you don't *have* to. One of the things that really changed the way I looked at Starship was the announcement that if they refueled in a very high Earth orbit, they could land on the moon and return to Earth with a modest payload.

        Of course, they might actually prove to be a cost-effective option for early habitats as well. Assuming the walls are a generous were half-meter thick for shielding, you'd have an interior floor area of 50m2 (538sqft) per level, and enough height for six floors without much trouble, though the top ones would be smaller. 300m2/~3000sqft of fully operational habitat, delivered to any flat surface on the moon?

        That sounds like a perfect roaming survey base to me. We could have multi-month preliminary research missions scouting promising areas on the surface, getting experience with longer-term moon missions and finding especially promising building sites, before beginning to invest in building more permanent structures.

        At which point, heck yeah - land a Starship or three at choice locations around the chosen construction site to become permanent fixtures as observation towers and initial habitats. I imagine construction would go a whole lot more smoothly when you've got well-tested drop-in habitats.