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

Submitted via IRC for soylent_brown

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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  • (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) <{takyon} {at} {}> 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) <{takyon} {at} {}> 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 []