The History Of The Starship: Elon Musk has ambitions to establish a colony on Mars. His company SpaceX is preparing its starship for the long journey to the planet. But is the starship capable of functioning?
While the Starship is meant to transport people to Mars and was initially named the Mars Colonial Transporter, it is actually a versatile aircraft. For example, NASA has used it to land its astronauts on the Moon.
SpaceX is even designing it to be able to shuttle to planet Earth. And finally, Musk wants Starship to begin missions beyond Mars. It is aptly named the Interplanetary Transport System.
A vehicle to Mars was first mentioned by Musk himself in 2012 when he was publicly discussing SpaceX’s Mars strategy. It was supposed to be entirely privately funded, but if you’ve followed this channel, you’ll already know that has changed.
From the planning stage itself, the vehicle to Mars had to be reusable as the CEO envisioned multiple trips to move both support systems and residents to the planet. The vehicle will drop off its cargo, refuel and make the return journey to planet Earth, just as thousands of airplanes do every day.
Elon plans to settle the first set of explorers on Mars by the mid-2020s. In a way, Starship can be considered an offshoot of the Falcon 9, which was impressive machinery in its own right.
In fact, in a public announcement of Starship’s existence, Musk said that the spaceship would be an evolution of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster and would be huge.
Interestingly, Musk promised to delay any IPO on SpaceX as long as Starship is not doing regular flights. Musk largely revealed more details about the entire mission in 2016, further discussing Starship. We also saw the Raptor engine, an important component of Starship, around the same period.
The following year, Musk revealed how the Mars mission architecture would at least partially pay for itself. SpaceX will undertake commercial flights on the contract using the Mars vehicle. Suborbital and lunar runs will also serve as test opportunities.
Starship Design The Starship has two main parts or stages: the booster part or first stage and the space-faring part or upper stage. The space fairing part is multi-function, as it can be used as a crew capsule to deliver astronauts into space, for example, or as an unmanned cargo delivery vehicle, or to refuel other spacecraft. To be used as an interplanetary fuel tanker.
Each of the two parts would have its own system of rockets called Raptors. The rocket engine will use a new fuel combination of methane and oxygen. The design improves on the Falcon 9, which had performance issues arising from the use of a high-pressure helium pressurized system.
Proportion-wise, Starship is a giant, and that’s saying a lot in the spacecraft world where everything is jumbo-sized. It is above most things at an altitude of 122 meters.
To reduce weight, both stages of the Starship have to be made from carbon fiber, unlike the Falcon 9 which was built from an aluminum-lithium alloy. Both stages will be reused as Musk was planning thousands of trips to Mars per year.
The upper stage of the Starship is very interesting. Because it’s not your normal upper stage that sits pretty on the booster waiting for enough lift to break free from the force of Earth’s gravity. In addition to the ability to function as a different vehicle, it is a full-fledged spacecraft that will travel millions of miles in space and stop for refueling if necessary.
Making it technically better, it will automatically come back to earth as it will have to be completely reused. Its ratio is impressive as well, serving as an interplanetary spaceship or a galactic fuel tanker. It will stand about 50 meters high,
To be able to operate over long distances in deep space, the Starship upper stage uses six vacuum variants of the Raptor engines that produce 3.5 meganewtons each.
SpaceX is throwing in three sea-level Raptors to land and take off on both Earth and Mars. When used as an interplanetary spaceship, the Starship would be retrofitted to serve as both a cargo and people carrier. With the accommodation of about a hundred adventurous souls.
As a fuel tanker, the Starship will be capable of carrying 380 tonnes of propellant to low Earth orbit. Up to five such tankers may be required to prepare a starship on a typical long-duration flight. However, the tankers will return to Earth to be refilled.
A big factor in all of the Starship’s design is cutting costs through reusability. Musk believes that interplanetary travel and colonization will be possible only with a substantial reduction in the cost per space mile.
“If humanity is ever to expand beyond Earth, and establish a self-sustaining base on another planet, it’s important that we solve this problem. Whether it’s SpaceX or anyone else. Somebody has to solve the problem.” And we can reduce the cost of space flight a hundredfold,” said Elon Musk.
Starship has gone through many iterations in its relatively short life. It began life as a large Falcon rocket, originally intended to be 9 meters in diameter, with only six Raptor engines two sea levels, and four vacuum in the initial design.
Sea level Raptor rose to three in 2017 as SpaceX wanted to increase engine capacity, and accommodate larger payloads during landing. Serious progress was made and 2018 saw SpaceX building launch vehicle components, with plans to build the first ship starting in 2018.
By March of the same year, SpaceX had leased building facilities in the Port of Los Angeles. Bear in mind that SpaceX wanted to send the first cargo to Mars in 2022.
The expression of interest in the official notice came in 2018 when the US military proposed to use Starship for the rapid movement of cargo on Earth. The then BFR was receiving more wings and new names through a further redesign.
Super heavy for the starship and booster for the upper stage. But in 2019, Starship lost one of its Raptor engines, making them six again. Around that time SpaceX began referring to the upper plus booster stages as the Starship System.
Speaking of prototypes, Starship has seen a lot, already called the Star Hopper which was supposed to be attached to the first two test flights, with the prototype rising no more than a meter.
For the Mk series which previously had six dedicated landing legs. The MK-1 collapsed during a pressure test and while the MK-2 was abandoned, the MK-4 also broke down. The Mk-3 survived and was renamed Starship SN1.
Due to changes in the production process, it boasted stronger joints and less weight. sn3 was destroyed during another test in April of 2020 due to a test configuration error. But part of the prototype was refurbished and used to build the SN4.
This iteration of the prototype survived several tests, including cryogenic pressure tests and two static fires. However, the third static fire test destroyed sn4 in May of 2020. The sn6 managed to complete a 150-meter hop test flight using a single Raptor engine.
sn8 re-oriented the ascendant and landed successfully but it went up in flames at the last moment. The sn9 made it the same way as its predecessor but it lost control and crashed into a concrete landing pad.
The sn10 which was nearby at the time of the sn-9 crash-landed on its feet, although some did not deploy, causing the prototype to lean to one side. The victory was short-lived, although it exploded eight minutes after landing.
sn11 passed the cryogenic proof test and flipped successfully, but disintegrated due to a methane leak. The next major prototype was the SN 15 which completed the ascent engine cutoff, flip maneuver, flap control, and touchdown save for a small fire near the base.
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