The SpaceX Starship is a very big deal

Part of my series on common misconceptions in space journalism.

Now available in audio form.

SpaceX has been working on some variant of the Big Falcon Rocket for almost a decade, with a publicly announced architecture for three years. The target performance figures are on the Starship website, endlessly dissected on Twitter, Reddit, and NASA spaceflight forums, and there’s even a livestream of construction.

Yet none of the oft-published mainstream articles seem to capture the magnitude of the vision that Starship embodies. Starship prompts superlatives, but by the end of this post the reader will understand not only how big Starship is, but also that it’s as small as it can possibly be.

Image result for starship

Since Starship was first unveiled as BFR/BFS at the IAC in 2016, the rocket has undergone a number of design changes. Together with Elon’s rather cryptic statement that the hardest part of the Starship design process was understanding exactly what question it would answer, we have a golden opportunity to employ reasoning backwards from design to implicit requirements.

Let’s start with a quick recap of the essential numbers.

Starship is the upper stage vehicle. It has a dry mass of 200 T, a fuel/ox mass of 1200 T, and a nominal payload of 150 T. Combined with high performance methane-oxygen vacuum engines, Starship is capable of over 7 km/s of Δv, which is very important.

Starship is boosted for Earth launch by Super Heavy, which is capable of lifting Starship to about 4 km/s before returning to the launch pad.

Both stages are designed to be fully reusable, enabling both high reliability and very cheap launch cost. Indeed, the marginal cost per flight could fall to $5m or below, reducing launch costs to the neighborhood of $35/kg, or 1000x less than Shuttle.

In 2016, it wasn’t immediately apparent how SpaceX intended to fund Starship development, but by 2017 the development team seemed to have an answer. Even though Starship has a launch capability greater than any other rocket ever built, its launch cost is comparable to the smallest launch vehicles currently in service, such as Electron.

If flights were sold at the going rate, Starship could launch any payload currently in the market, while making money. In practice, of course, Starship will aggregate launches to spread cost, but it still was not entirely clear how Starship would not saturate the global launch market immediately.

SpaceX clearly intends to build dozens of Starships. With an eventual flight rate of once per day per Starship, we’re looking at roughly a million tonnes to orbit per year. That exceeds the current launch market of about 500 T/year by a substantial margin.

Economically, there is an answer to this question in the form of Starlink, SpaceX’s communication constellation. In 2012, SpaceX realized that their customers, primarily communications satellite operators, had better margins than they, the launch provider, did. And this was despite the generally usurious launch costs prevalent in the industry. Unlike space mining or solar power, space-based communications satellites fulfill a genuine market need. If satellite manufacturers can make money launching $100m satellites on $100m rockets, how much money could SpaceX make launching their own satellites for much, much less? More on this in a future post, but in short, SpaceX believes (correctly) that there is almost infinite upside to flying satellites to meet global telecommunications demand, provided you have a monopoly on launches that are orders of magnitude cheaper than the competition.

With the money question out of the way, we can ask ourselves: What is Starship for? SpaceX could make plenty of money with incremental improvements on the Falcon launchers, and even build up Starlink without Starship.

Starship is for building nations in space. I don’t mean Project Artemis or some version of “The Martian,” though Starship could easily do both. I mean serious logistics.

The Starship atmospheric test prototypes are deep into construction, and I still routinely hear space visionaries adapting old exploration architectures for Starship. With a Starship or two, they say, I could build a really sweet Moon mission. With a Starship or two, I could upgrade the space station.

Think bigger. Much bigger.

In 10 years, Starship flights will be sold by the dozen. Starship is only cheap if it gets used as much as possible. The only meaningful barrier to production today is engine manufacture, and that will be through the hardest part of the learning curve well before commercial flights begin.

When we think about how to use Starship, we can’t analogize to Christopher Columbus or Captain Cook. In fact, let’s avoid analogies entirely. But if you must use an analogy, think instead of the Berlin Airlift. In 1948, allied forces in Berlin were blockaded by Soviets to force capitulation and withdrawal. Instead, the remnants of the demobilized airforces began shipping in food, coal, and other supplies in 3.5 T (and later 10 T) increments – the cargo limits of the available planes. Daily demand was 5,000-10,000 T as the city neared winter, but the operation scaled rapidly. Over 15 months, 278,000 flights moved 2.3 million tonnes of cargo into the city, breaking the blockade. The Berlin Airlift functioned as a virtual conveyor belt, moving cargo from one point to another.

Starship is a cargo conveyor system. The Starship is comparable in complexity to a 737, and so it’s not unthinkable to have a construction rate of 500/year. If each Starship manages 300 flights per year, each carrying 150 T of cargo, then we are talking a yearly incremental cargo capacity growth of 22 million tonnes to orbit. At this point, the most meaningful constraint on launch capacity might be launch pad construction rate.

Not all this cargo will be bread and cheese. In fact, by mass around 90% will simply be more methane and oxygen to refuel the LEO-parked cargo-laden Starships for flights to more distant destinations. Much of the remainder will be heavy industrial equipment as the purpose of these missions is to replicate the industrial stack of Earth.

How will these missions work?

The Starship mission profile is somewhat dependent on destination. Starship is designed to be a versatile cargo vehicle, capable of landing on any terrestrial body in the solar system, but the details vary somewhat. The destinations I’ll cover here include Earth, Moon, Mars, and deep space.

More Starships will land on Earth than any other planet. In fact, for each Starship loaded to the gills with cargo and launched to LEO, another eight or so are needed to completely refill its tanks for further flights. Each of these Starship tankers will transfer fuel directly (there are no gas stations in space) and then return to the launch site for another load.

Starship has a superficial resemblance to the Space Shuttle, with its stubby delta wings. Unlike Shuttle, however, these wings provide no lift, and they hinge along the body. Starship is designed to control its entry using differential drag, much like a sky diver. It can angle its body to produce a small amount of body lift necessary to avoid sharp deceleration and heating in the lower atmosphere. Unlike Shuttle, which glided subsonically to an absurdly long runway, Starship will relight its core engines, turn around, and execute a propulsive pinpoint landing. Just like a futuristic spaceship should.

Since Earth’s atmosphere is nice and thick, Starship can slow down to perhaps 150 mph before lighting its engines, requiring only a tiny amount of fuel to land.

The Moon is a different story. Unlike Earth or Mars, it lacks an atmosphere so requires propulsive landing and the fuel to slow down from orbit. Despite this drawback, which in alternative architectures requires multiple stages to execute, Starship has an enormous Δv and can fly significant cargo from LEO to the Lunar surface and back to LEO, all without refueling on the Moon.

This is vitally important. While converting Lunar water to rocket fuel is all the rage right now, it won’t be available for early missions, if ever. Oxidizer would perhaps be easier to obtain and, being 4/5 of the fuel weight, more worthwhile. Nonetheless, this graph shows how a Starship, refueled in LEO and optionally boosted to GTO, could transport 150 T of cargo the Moon and still have ample fuel to bring another 100 T of cargo back. A LEO-GTO refilling operation would require 15 tanker flights, and would take about a week to execute from TLI burn to Earth return.


In other words, the baseline Starship architecture is capable of moving enormous quantities of cargo to anywhere on the Moon with little to no preplaced infrastructure. Assuming a $35/kg LEO launch cost, cargo could be delivered to the moon for perhaps $500/kg. This sounds like a lot, especially when the cost of shipping anything in a container, anywhere on Earth, is about $0.10/kg. But $500/kg is comparable to the cost of specialty industrial equipment, which is a decent baseline for the cost of Lunar-customized gear. In other words, for the first time in any Lunar mission reference architecture, the shipping cost could be a minority of total costs.

Next, let’s consider Mars. Mars is the underlying design case for the Starship, although Starships that go to Mars will probably be of a customized nature. While the Moon takes about 3 days to get to, Mars takes 4-10 months. Launch windows to Mars only open every 2 years, so even if Elon has 1000 Starships ready to go, they can only go every 2 years. If there is copious fuel available on Mars, they could potentially return in time for the next launch window, but even so, 2 years is an awfully long time to wait for a reusable vehicle that depends on high flight rate. Starship needs to refuel on Mars from locally-produced methane and oxygen to return to Earth.


The economics shift here so much that some people even advocate employing Starship as an upper stage alone. Under this model, Starship would boost some Mars-bound payload onto the appropriate orbit, then turn around and come back to Earth, ready to fire off another payload as soon as it was refueled, perhaps a week later. Such a system could employ a given Starship 100 times as much.

There are two reasons why staging off Starship is a bad idea.

The first is that Starships are not fundamentally scarce. By the time we are launching thousands of people to Mars every launch window, there will be so many Starships we’ll be giving them away. There may not be much point in flying them all back to Earth, but a few will return to bring people who want to come back.

The second, and most important, reason is that Starship is not just a huge fuel tank and some kick ass engines, it’s also a Mars landing system. It turns out that landing on Mars is really hard. Of 17 attempted landings, only 8 have been successful, all built by JPL. Here’s a great explainer of the general problem.

In short, the atmosphere is really thin. Thick enough to cause a thermal and guidance problem, but not thick enough to slow the spacecraft down enough, especially if it’s a really big (>2 T) lander.

Mars Direct originally called for a blunt aeroshell and parachute landing system, but such a system has several fundamental issues. First, the aeroshell produces inadequate levels of lift, greatly restricting landing sites to very low altitude areas that aren’t downrange of mountains. Second, the aeroshell’s low lift causes the spacecraft to experience a very high G loading, potentially at levels that would incapacitate a human crew. Third, parachutes have proven very tricky to get right on Mars even for rover-sized payloads. Parachutes are problematic because a) their mass scales much faster than their size and b) their opening speed reduces as their size increases. Well below the size needed to be useful for human landers, parachutes weigh too much and open much too slowly to successfully arrest a lander.

Fortunately, there is a solution and Starship leverages that solution. By bringing the spacecraft in sideways, the vehicle maximizes its area and lift, reducing g loading and ballistic coefficient. It can also perform a guided entry and precision rocket landing. Starship is not just a huge fuel tank and some kick ass engines, it’s also a reusable honest-to-god Mars landing system for >100T payloads that doesn’t require any parachutes. This is a big deal.

The Starship is designed to enable the rapid construction of an enormous, self-sufficient Mars city with a population measured in the millions. This can’t be done by analogy with western pioneer expansion in the USA. 20 acres and mule isn’t enough to survive on Mars. Mars is a deadly adversarial environment and humans need copious advanced technology and production capacity to survive. Mars city building isn’t about Mark Watney lovingly raising 500 sqft of potatoes in his hab. Mars city building is about robots building potato farming robots and humans facilitating a nearly-automated industrial stack. Mars city building is about tenting and pressurizing 10,000 sqft of the Martian surface, per person. Mars city building is about maintaining an exponential growth curve for 6 orders of magnitude. It’s an enormous logistical enterprise.

What is the optimal size for Mars Starships? It turns out that the practical limitation for Mars Starships is set by entry, descent, and landing. Without terraforming the atmosphere, this tops out at somewhere around 1000 T of cargo. Still, a 1000 T cargo Starship would be 25m wide and perhaps 70m tall. The 150 T Starship (the current version) is just barely viable for Mars cargo missions, but useful for proving out the architecture, testing the systems, and getting things started. Fortunately, welded stainless steel is much easier to increase in diameter than virtually any other rocket manufacturing technique. This is what I mean when I say that while Starship is bigger than any of our other puny rockets, it’s actually quite small compared to the magnitude of its destined task.

Finally, deep space, by which I mean any destination that isn’t a major planet or moon. Starship’s pressurized volume is about double that of the International Space Station. A space station built from Starships, its tanks converted to habitable space and equipped with electric thrusters, could be used for any imaginable purpose. Earth orbit space station? Asteroid exploration? Deep space telescope chassis? Outer solar system exploration? I’ve written before that modular space stations are not cost effective. Perhaps what we need are fewer, much larger modules. After all, there’s nothing cheaper than developing a new heavy lift rocket!

To finish this post, I’m going to revisit its starting point. Starship is still seen by many in the space media community as a slightly overgrown version of any other rocket, with reusability tacked on. This is an error of analogy. Starship fundamentally changes our relationship with space.

Starship is a devastatingly powerful space access and logistical transport mechanism that will instantly crush the relevance of every other rocket ever built.

80 thoughts on “The SpaceX Starship is a very big deal

  1. The wings actually do make lift, at a 60 deg AOA they should boost L/D to near .8 from near .5, which is quite significant for reducing re-entry heating. Google for a ballistic coefficient vs L/D max heating plot.


      1. Should say “flow is separated” then. Saying “no lift” leaves the reader with the impression that the only function of the wings is attitude control. Which is false.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The 200 ton mass is just for the very first (Mk1) being built in Boca Chica. Elon has tweeted that they are going to get that down to more like 125 tons in future iterations.


      1. There’s something wrong with that chart, though.

        Refueling in LEO, you can’t even get a no-payload Starship to the lunar surface and back. A quick proof, using Isp=365 s (what Elon used in the most recent preso), dry mass = 120 t:

        Delta-v for LEO to Lunar surface = 6010 m/s
        Delta-v for LS to TEI = 2880 m/s
        Delta-v for TEI to landing (a SWAG) = 350 m/s
        Total Delta-v = 9240 m/s

        Prop needed @ 120 t dry mass:
        (exp(9240/365/9.8)-1)*120 = 1469 t (more than prop capacity)

        Want to use Isp=380? 1315 t of prop. Closer, but still no cigar.

        To get anything to the lunar surface, you need to completely refuel in LEO, boost up to some higher energy (LEO+2000 will work for cargo, but there’s a catch for crews…), then add whatever prop is needed to go from HEEO to the lunar surface and back to Earth landing.

        Assuming that your fuel tankers are vanilla-flavored cargo Starships with no payload, for a 150 t up-payload and 0 t down-payload to/from the lunar surface, I get exactly 15 tankers’ full of prop to do the mission.

        Now, about those crewed missions: If you go to an HEEO that’s LEO+2000 m/s, you’re still in the remnants of the second Van Allen belt. Furthermore, even if the HEEO tanker can rendezvous, dock, and transfer prop on the first orbit, to get an optimal TLI burn, you have to dive back through the heavy parts of both Van Allen belts, which will cause your crew to be exposed to about double the radiation that you’d get from an Apollo-style departure from LEO. If you have a serious problem with refueling that requires several orbits to resolve, you could wind up killing the crew.

        The proper way to solve this is to boost the crew Starship all the way to TLI, then have the tanker rendezvous with it in trans-lunar coast. That takes a bit more total prop, and limits the payload capacity. I’d guess that crewed missions will usually be fairly light, though–at least in the early days of lunar travel.


    1. Starship, using 9mx50m as dimensions, has a total volume of 3,180 m3. ISS has a pressurized volume of 915 m3. I don’t know that figures on Starship’s expected pressurized volume are currently available… it will likely vary by design purpose. Based on existing concepts for the manned version, about a third of the total volume seems like a good guess, so you’d be correct. However if a SS hull were be converted in-toto to an orbital hab, it would have about three times as much total volume as the ISS pressurized volume, and probably the majority of that could be used as hab volume. So double the ISS hab volume is probably the minimum for that application.


      1. I guess the tanks are technically pressurized but are usually not counted when talking about pressurized volume, since it’s not really useful for people.


      2. Skylab was a dry lab, not a wet lab. AIUI although it started off as a wet lab concept (i.e. launched up as part of a normal rocket launch with another payload), the complexities of conversion on-orbit into a living space were deemed too complex, so it was made into a fitted-out stand-alone payload instead.
        I think the same complexities killed the concept of using a Shuttle external tank as the basis of a space station.
        So the question is: have the technical advances of the last couple of decades, coupled with the knowledge of working in space garnered from the ISS, made such a wet-lab concept more workable?


  3. Does anyone else remember a strange, terse statement years ago from Communist China that ALL of the Moon is their territory?


  4. I’m a fan of Elon and all his projects, but how the hell will we get 1M people to want to live on Mars?

    Unless Mars has some magic unheard-of resource that we’ll want to mine, and apart from some minimal tourism (since 2 years on a hostile planet isn’t exactly a dream vacation for most), there’s very little financial incentive to go. And building out a city of 1M people will require some strong incentive. Why go to a place where you could die at any moment if there’s no money to be made?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think a huge possibly unexplored market opportunity on mars would be luxury retirement homes. Imagine being able to retire at 1/3 gravity. As long as they were actually luxury retirement homes, like providing everything that retiring millionaires would want, I think there would be a huge market. For active retirees, surface jaunts, both in suits and vehicles, could be a thing. For less active folks, a big window watching the colony grow would be a big incentive. But the biggest incentive would be the 0.38% gravity – less bed sores, less muscle and joint pain, being able to walk in later life with less muscles – all kinds of benefits. And there are going to be a lot of retiring millionaires.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. A few authors have hypothesized that low gravity extends life, and certainly something that amazing would be a huge impetus. But I don’t think it’s very likely. One has to survive the rigors of launch and landing to get there first!


      2. A large rotating space station with different rings at different gravities feels far more likely. Starship and the 18m diameter successor that Musk referred to can put that together far more quickly than a Mars city. As launch costs drop, retirees could have visitors. Another profit center for SpaceX to fund the main mission.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. No sensible spacecraft can rely in the long term on rocket fuel from the deepest gravity well in which it is designed to operate, nor can a large-scale orbital delivery system contribute millions of tons of polluting gases into the Earth’s atmosphere. Long-term economic access to Earth orbit and beyond has to escape from the surly bonds of our cradle: there is no logic (except for a small number of billionaires) in crucifying the Earth in exchange for Martian regolith or ubiquitous satellite telephones.


    1. Starship fuel can be carbon neutral, as it will be synthesized on Mars. It will take more than a 10 million launches a year to even make a dent in our steady burning of coal and oil. I think Elon’s net contribution is positive! Plenty of other billionaires to criticize.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. How’s his hyperloop idea going? Or the tunnels under LA, or the BFR earth-to-earth, or the rockets on Teslas, or the solar panels, or battery-swap, etc… and now the Starship claims…


      2. I think his hit rate is, all things considered, pretty good. I sometimes struggle to get out of bed in the morning. Rebuilding a whole industry is a big job. Might take a while.

        Liked by 5 people

      3. @blogReader

        Sorry for some reason I can’t reply directly to you on mobile. I’ll respond to you item by item.

        Hyperloop is progressing fairly well. Construction on one is currently underway in the UAE. The designs are still being tinkered with and improved with two companies in the US one in Chicago the other in Nevada dedicated to it. Elon isn’t directly involved with any of it but I don’t see why that would surprise you seeing as how he said it was an idea he threw out for others to run with?

        BFR Earth to Earth is progressing right along with BFR. You expected something else?

        Rockets on Tesla’s? No idea wtf you are talking about.

        Soler panels are progressing well with a new and better design just released within the last month or so.

        A test battery swap station was built along the busiest corridor of Tesla usage at the ideal spot halfway between San Francisco and LA. No one used it. Do you really expect them to build more?

        You seem like one of the many, many “smart” people who have taken a bath trying to short Tesla stock. Might I suggest you quit with the irrational hatred of all things Musk and invest in some bonds or a mutual fund?

        Liked by 3 people

    2. In the long term, I agree with you. There are plenty of resources in the solar system that will provide the necessary ingredients for rocket propellent. Elon’s plan is not to contribute tons of polluting gases into Earth’s atmosphere, but to extract the fuel from that atmosphere, then put it back upon launch – and in fact, distribute some of that carbon into space, beyond Earth’s atmosphere, thus becoming a “minus” contributor to greenhouse gases.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Completely agree. Once in every generation or so the existing paradigm radically shifts. In the same way that the introduction of the dreadnought made the worlds navies obsolete in the 19th century, so now in the early part of the 21st century Starship makes the rest of the worlds launchers obsolete.
    It’s as black and white as that.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You mentioned the refueling, and how many tanker variants would be needed for flights out to Mars. Do you expect each tanker to dock with the crewed variant, or would each tanker dock with another tanker that would stay in orbit? I think it makes more sense if there are a collection of fully fueled tankers in orbit waiting for the crew launch. That way you only have a single transfer to the crewed starship, and you’d have backups if something on one of the tankers failed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You mentioned it would take 8 starship tankers to fuel up a starship in orbit. In elon’s presentations he mentioned it would take 3 to 5 (though that was a while ago). Where did you get that number? Did you take into account that a dedicated tanker variation of starship would carry significantly more fuel?


  8. I saw somewhere that the Raptor exhaust velocity is about 3.5km/s which just might create a significant crater and literally throw material into lunar orbit on landing, given that the moons escape velocity is only 2.38km/h. This is a point I’d like to hear more about.


    1. The Falcon 9 landing Merlin is too powerful to hover, so it gets cut off exactly as the legs touch down. Presumably you could do the same thing on the Moon.


    2. The lunar variant of Starship won’t be using the Raptor engines for landing. They’ll be installing smaller thrusters near the top of the ship for the final approach. Google “Lunar Starship” and you’ll see a ton of images.


  9. Don’t you only need 3.6 km/s dv to go from LEO to mars transfer?
    The header tanks (which would otherwise be reserved for earth landing) will handle any orbital course corrections and mars landing. So even with 150T payload you only need to fuel up enough to get 3.6 km/s. You won’t need a full tank of fuel (5 km/s), so 3-5 tankers sounds right depending on payload (I assume humans and their living space are pretty low density so a crew SS won’t need much fuel).


  10. What do you all think about using starships to build a fission powered interplanetary vessel in leo. A ship capable of holding many starships on board like an aircraft carrier. Traveling to Mars, exchanging cargo with the surface while slingshoting and returning to leo. The carrier could use a linear particle accelerator powered by the reactor to maximize thrust from its propellant by ejecting particles approaching relativistic speeds? Talking 20-50 years from now.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Great article! I think you are right about pretty much everything. I for one am most looking forward to seeing what type of space stations can be built with this. I calculated the other day that you could build a Stanford Torus capable of holding 10,000 people for $220 billion with Starship. And launch costs only acccounted for $7 billion of that.


  12. Any educated guesses of what the thrust to weight ratio will be at sea level, in orbit and on the Mun… oops i mean the Moon.


  13. How about an electric shuttle to the moon/mars. Solid/liquid fuel engines for orbit entry and departure. I leave that to the Engineers. Use the moons as a LEO store. If only cargo, who cares about transit time!


  14. I can’t think of a more eco-friendly idea than enclosing hundreds of Earth’s minds in little bubbles surrounded by one of the harshest environments in nature, making their survival literally dependent on improving recycling, carbon removal, oxygen generation, and solar power collection.

    Like Apollo, the Mars colony will pay for itself 100x over in the inventions that are created just to make it possible, and this time many of them will be green tech that will help us back here on Earth.


    1. SNAP! This angle doesn’t get anywhere near enough attention. An outpost on Mars would, of necessity, be a crucible for the development of precisely the kind of technologies that are desperately needed to make our societies on Earth sustainable. If you want to solve the problems we have on Earth, you should be very keen that some people try and sustain themselves on Mars.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. This is a bit of a late reply, but if that’s the goal, then it would be cheaper and faster to make self-sufficient colonies in harsh environments on Earth, like the deep sea and Antarctica. If that’s not enough, then we could make colonies in LEO and on the Moon.


      1. Saying that we should just ignore two hundred million times the mass of the ISS, already conveniently located right at the edge of our gravity well, just because we’ll eventually need more than 130,000,000,000,000 kg of material in space, is a bit like saying you shouldn’t pick a $100 bill up off the sidewalk because it won’t pay your rent.


      2. Small means its easier to use – and if you use a thousand tons a day it will still last a million years


  15. I just hope Elon Musk is somehow making someone as good as him to take this place in the future. There are so many things that must be done that I’m afraid it’ll not be possible to do in his (or even ours) lifetime. This is a really big project, bigger than a single human life and, if he left us today, it probably would stall.

    There are A LOT of technical challenges that need to be resolved before it even fly humans to LEO. Simple things that no-one is talking about, like the landing legs of Superheavy generating aerodynamic forces that will make the rocket flip on it’s way back to earth. Or the power generation requirements for Starship interplanetary travel, or the MASSIVE power requirements for the little wings movement, or even the required torque for that last-second flip maneuver over the landing zone.

    I know that all this stuff can be done… But man, that’s a lot of work to do… And it’s hard to believe that it’ll be done in the next 2 or 3 years. I hope I am wrong as I really would like to see all this stuff happening in my lifetime.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Possibly the most powerful paradigm-shifting article I’ve read in a long time. I already believed in Elon Musk anyway, and follow his technological human-saving exploits closely. When is the SpaceX IPO ?
    Wish I could be an entrepreneur like him, and do something *materially* relevant in this day of inner-space eating us all up parasitically. Anyway, apart from Elon, not much intelligence down here. So, beam me up soon.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There won’t ever be a SpaceX IPO, at least while Musk is alive.

      He has very intentionally not made the company public, so he can maintain control, not a board of shareholders who would, very sensibly from their point of view, dismiss a Mars colony as unprofitable fantasy and vote to limit SpaceX’s activities to delivering junk to LEO.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I guess boring and greedy shareholders would be good at killing dreams. It seems Mask knows what he is doing. Damn, I would gladly join that as job of my dream or so if they let me and need me – but I guess not a chance, for some reasons.


  17. Btw… thanks for that insighting article, as well as description of why Starlink could be so important. Never thought about these two in ways you described, yet it explains a lot of things and seems to be up to the point. Just awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It would likely require the next (larger) generation of the Raptor engine. The plumbing to hook together 100’s of the existing design would likely be infeasible.

        Said development should begin right about now…


  18. For missions with very high delta-v, could it make sense to have a Superheavy go to LEO with a low-mass nose cone instead of a Starship, get refueled by the same tanker version of Starship that’s going to be used to refuel regular Starships for interplanetary missions, ditch the nose cone and mate with a Starship that has the payload (and has also been refueled), and finally be expended somewhere in interplanetary space?

    I’m thinking of something like putting a substantial payload deep into the gravity well of Jupiter, or doing sample return from parts of the solar system where we wouldn’t normally think of trying that without ISRU.


    1. Today I’m thinking that for this kind of mission it would be better to have a separate stage that goes to orbit on top of a Super Heavy. Call it stage 1.5. It would be all tanks, or as close as possible. It wouldn’t have grid fins like SH, nor flaps like Starship. It would only have two vacuum optimized Raptors, because it would never land, or operate in atmosphere at all. (Two instead of one, because you don’t want to completely give up all redundancy. An extra Raptor is peanuts compared to the overall cost of a mission that takes a full Starship payload to somewhere with very high delta v. Engine failure would be a stupid way to lose the mission.)

      The bottom would attach to SH with the same hardware as Starship uses. The top would attach to Starship with the same hardware as SH uses.

      For launch, it would attach to an expendable nose cone. The nose cone would have a small cold-gas thruster to nudge it away during separation, and basically nothing else. It would separate just after stage separation, when it doesn’t have orbital speed, and fall back into the atmosphere without having to spend the mass to do anything more complicated.

      The rest of Stage 1.5 would be a giant pair of methalox tanks. It would be filled in orbit the same way as Starship, just a lot more launches. If you needed even more delta v, you could link multiple S1.5s end to end, limited only by how much money you’re willing to spend on ridiculous numbers of fuel launches. Jupiter balloon base, here we come.


  19. The only thing I disagree with here is the ‘inflated mars habitats’

    My feeling is that the first few living spaces on Mars / Moon will be underground using the Boring Machine to dig out the tunnels.

    Makes radiation shielding irrelevant, and sealing tunnels to be air tight is likely a lot easier to deploy and maintain than tents.


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