On Thursday, February 10, 2022 – 20:00 CST, Space Exploration Technology’s (SpaceX) Chief Engineer Elon Musk gave a presentation about the Starship/Super Heavy rocket. The backdrop was the recently stacked launch vehicle, which was completed by the chopstick stacking and catching arms for the first time. To keep track of the first orbital launch, slated for this year, check out our live updates article with information on what is going on in Starbase.
Elon Musk opened the update by welcoming locals, employees, and the press to the Gateway to Mars – Starbase, Texas. He then thanked the surrounding area, including Cameron County, South Padre Island, Brownsville, and Boca Chica Village for their support.
Watch a replay of the update here: Starship Update
Why Make Life Multiplanetary?
One of SpaceX’s biggest goals with Starship is to make a human colony on Mars self sustaining. This is, without a doubt, something of the distant future. However, the work being done today will eventually make that dream a reality. Musk commented on the future, “Making like multiplanetary is important for the future of life itself”. He insisted that humans must find a way off this planet and travel amongst the starts as Earth will not last forever.
“Life can’t just be about solving problems. it has to be about things that inspire you… That move your heart. That when you wake up in the morning, you’re excited about the future.” These words have led Elon Musk to drive SpaceX in the right direction to achieve its ambitious goals. One of the most common phrases encompasses the need for a “fully and rapidly reusable launch system” in order to make life multiplanetary.
Problems On Earth And The Space Budget
Musk went on to discuss the United States’ Government spending on spaceflight. In 2020, only 0.36% of the U.S Budget was committed to space. However, this is not to complain that 0.36% is not enough. “I believe that more than 99% of our resources should be oriented to solving problems on Earth,” says Musk, “But maybe even half a percent?” On the large scale, 0.36% provides for the development of robotic missions to Mars and the upcoming Space Launch System. If the US Government would increase the budget by a few tenths of a percent, that would allow more advances from government operated space organizations.
Starship Tonnage To Orbit
A graphic the world has yet to see included the overall tonnage of payload that has the potential to be delivered to orbit. This data is based on increasingly frequent Starship flights. As of current, the world has launched a total of about 15,000 tonnes to orbit across all space agencies ever. For Starship, the tonnes to orbit for one year hosting three flights a week, a total of about 156 flights in the year, could have the potential to achieve 15,500 tonnes to orbit per Starship.
If Starship were to launch three times a day for an entire year, a total of 109,500 tonnes would be launched to orbit for that year per Starship. If SpaceX is able to achieve over one million tonnes to orbit, that would equate to about 100,000 tonnes to the surface of Mars, according to Musk. He also believes that at least one million tonnes would be required on Mars to have a self sustaining habitat or city on the surface of Mars.
Starship And Super Heavy Reusability And Production
Musk commented on the reusability of both Starship and Super Heavy. Starting with the return to Earth, the Booster was stated to be able to return in six minutes, be refilled in 30, and be ready to launch again about an hour after its first launch. As for the Ship, it must make at least one orbit, most likely two or three, before returning to Earth. This would result in a reuse time between six and eight hours. All of this would assume that no human maintenance would be required between flights.
Touching on production of each as well, Musk stated that by the end of 2022, SpaceX aims to be producing one booster and one Ship per month.
Details And Numbers For Starship And Super Heavy
While the figures have remained fairly consistent, updated tables with new full stack images provided confirmation of a maximum 150 tonnes payload capacity. Super Heavy presented a table for itself with the most up to date numbers. Musk also emphasized that Super Heavy was originally 70 meters tall. An unnecessary and extra half of a ring section was then removed and the booster topped off at 69 meters.
Updates On The Raptor Engine
Perhaps the most critical system on a rocket would be its engines. Engines deliver the power to the launch vehicle, therefore having a reliable yet efficient engine is the key to rapid reusability. SpaceX has recently been using the Raptor V1 engine for mounting on Booster 4 and to perform engine tests on both Booster 3 and Ship 20. However, since the Raptor engine is still early in its development, there are still improvements being made.
SpaceX placed a side by side comparison of Raptor V1 and the advanced Raptor V2 engine at the update location. On the outside, Raptor V2 demonstrated a slimmer, more compact, and smaller design than Raptor V1. However, Musk provided details about the inside and some of the problems they are having in development.
The biggest issue for Raptor V2 is the melting of the combustion chamber, which has a goal of operating at 330 bar. Increased pressure will also increase the temperature inside the chamber. “That thing really wants to melt,” says Elon Musk. SpaceX has been able to increase the rate of production of their Raptor V2 engine and is expected to have five or six more Raptors produced next week, eventually producing one per day as early as next month.
Some of the internal changes to Raptor V2 include the deleting or simplification of many unneeded components and the consolidation of plumbing. Some critical components were made more robust, including the inducers of the turbopumps. The chamber nozzle, electronics and other items have been given a complete redesign. SpaceX also converted flanges, a method of connecting pipes that allows for easy maintenance, to welds, which helped reduce the overall size of the plumbing. Furthermore, Elon Musk noted that the cost per Raptor V2 has gone down to only half of what the cost or one Raptor V1 previously was.
Flying With Starship
Starship will go orbital sometime this year, but when will it achieve refilling in orbit and point to point transportation? Musk made a correction to the previously used term “orbital refueling” and made it “orbital refilling”. There is three and a half times more liquid oxygen being transferred than fuel, therefore refueling is not entirely true. At the conclusion of this topic, Elon Musk stated that he aims to test the orbital refilling concept by the end of next year (2023) and he would be surprised if it would take longer than two years.
When asked about point to point transportation, something that was a big selling factor originally, Musk mentioned that it might be cheaper to send payload on Starship instead of a conventional airliner. Musk stated, “There are some scenarios where [Starship] may be the lowest cost means of transporting cargo long distances such as 1/4, 1/3 the way around the world”. In addition, the costs of delivering 100 tonnes to orbit will cost a few million dollars after a few years of development.
Stage 0: Launch And Catch Tower
The most critical element to successfully launching and landing a fully stacked Starship/Super Heavy is the tower and Orbital Tank Farm. This is often referred to as Stage 0. During the update, Elon Musk stated that it took only 13 months to design, develope, and construct Stage 0. “I really want to emphasize that the whole launch system is equally as complex and difficult as either the booster or the ship,” says Musk. The system is one like no other. Something that is truly unique and has never been seen or done before.
Future of Starbase
SpaceX has recently started to build up a new Starship/Super Heavy launch facility at Launch Complex 39A. This pad is located at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA. Because this launch location allows for greater flexibility, LC-39A and other pads will eventually host regular Starship launches. However, Starbase is critical to the development of Starship. At Starbase, SpaceX will continue to test Starships and new variants before sending them over to launch from the Space Coast. This will allow failures without risking the launch pads used for regular human and satellite launches, potentially disrupting the launch manifest from the Cape. Both locations will have a production and a launch facility for more flexibility.