New SpaceX Superheavy Starship Design is Metal Tanks and Structures

The new design for the SpaceX Super Heavy Starship will have mostly fairly heavy metal parts. This could relate to the previously mentioned tank and airframe structure changes. This is a change from the prior designs which had mainly composite materials.

Elon Musk mentioned this design change in a discussion of the titanium grid fins on the current Falcon 9.

We should see how this is coming together in early January when there may be photos of a partially assembled Starship (aka top stage of the BFR).

Previously Elon talked about changing the airframe, tanks and heatshield.

SpaceX Adapted Software Design Methods to Hardware

SpaceX continues to iterate on the design.

Agile methodologies or scrum were methods and processes developed by others for software development. This method uses short development iterations which are typically two weeks to a month per cycle. It is a continuous improvement or development process. The Waterfall method was the dominant project management approach before Agile.

Tesla does not have model years like traditional car companies. They make continuous slight incremental changes all the time on assembly-line. A Tesla car at the beginning year is not quite the same car at the end of the year. It is a slightly improved version of the car.

They can also send significant improvements to their customer’s cars with remote software updates.

SpaceX in 2019

There is more discussion of the possible metal structures here and other expected developments in 2019.

* there will be new commercial launches of the SpaceX Heavy
* there should be hop tests of the Starship late in 2019
* there should certification of the manned dragon vehicle
* beginning deployments of the Starlink satellites or at least quite a few more prototypes

40 thoughts on “New SpaceX Superheavy Starship Design is Metal Tanks and Structures”

  1. I don’t. I’m just remarking the trend of payload reduction as time passes, and the problems of making a ship of BFR/Starship’s characteristics become evident to them.

    I still think a fully reusable FH sized rocket is an extremely cool development for space access in general., but the trend in design changes should warn us about being over optimistic about the specs of the upcoming SpaceX rockets.

    Everything has a cost, and to get full reusability they will have to make some compromises along the way.

  2. Jean, how exactly do you know it will have the same payload to orbit as a FH.

    This is the beauty of SX (love or hate Musk) they can spin on a dime. If this was a NASA rocket there would be no way to make such a radical change. I read that just to shut down the shuttle program is cost something like a few billion (I don’t remember exactly but it was insanely expensive).

    The difference is that SX is not a jobs program for congress.

  3. Did you actually listen to her talk before posting that poorly written screed?? She actually expects total solar irradiance to drop by 8 watts per square meter and specifically mentions a high likelyhood of massive food shortages in the 2028-2032 time frame. The kind that would.require inter governmental cooperation to prevent famine and the die off of huge amounts of animals.

  4. Weight is all important in rocketry. Ideally a rocket that creates infinite thrust, and weighs almost zero pounds is the ultimate rocket. However that will never exists. So we have to make rockets with limited thrust, and substantial weight.

  5. Current NSF speculation is high entropy alloy metal honeycomb, similar to the metal honeycomb on the RASCAL TAV.

  6. Nothing wrong with Atlas, just keep it pressurized. For that matter, the BFB could be perfectly fine unloaded, and only need a round 30psi to support the fully laden BFS

  7. Yes, it is.

    There is no blocking the Cosmic rays until you are well inside the atmosphere, and at it’s 330mi orbit, it is frequently in the van Allen belts.

  8. “the term cryogenic and composites shouldn’t even be used in the same sentence.”

    My general attitude, too. Composites are, well, “composite”, and unless you can match the thermal expansion and contraction of the components over the entire temperature range of use, you’ll continually be creating internal stresses.

  9. If you scrapped ships in orbit, metal construction would make re-purposing easier. Pressurized environment, industrial equipment, space tug, test vehicle for electrodynamic braking in atmospheres, Test bed for vasmir engines, raw materials storage, raw materials for 3d printing.

  10. The 2017 BFS configured for a crewed Mars mission was supposed to have 85 metric tons dry mass and can do 150 tons payload because of the four Raptor-Vacuum engines. 2018 BFS decreased the payload to 100 tons and downgraded the engine configuration to 7 Sea-Level Raptors. We’ll have to wait and see how much more additional mass the revised 2019 metal-hull/tank BFS has. Every ton of dry mass added would be a ton decrease in payload capacity if it is still powered by the same 7 Sea-Level Raptors.

  11. Aha, back to the original Atlas? I think its too fragile. An empty Atlas collapsed into thin metal shards when it lost internal pressure.

  12. Liquid oxygen getting trapped in small spaces caused by buckling in the carbon fiber overwrap on the liquid helium pressure vessels (COPVs) was blamed for the AMOS-6 on-pad explosion in September 2016 that destroyed the Falcon 9 rocket and Launch Complex 40 pad at Cape Canaveral during the rocket’s static fire test.

    This sort of failure most likely won’t happen with the BFR though since there will be no liquid helium COPVs onboard BFR, since both BFR propellents (LCH4 and LOX) are capable of autogenous pressurization. (the COPVs are present on the Falcon 9 because RP-1 kerosene rocket fuel cannot autogenously pressurize).

  13. There’s no way it can have even close to the performance talked about so far with metal based architecture. This will likely be a huge setback time and performance wise. Similar to a rocket blowing up in terms of engineering changes. Better now than in 3 years tho.

  14. I agree it’s a great feature with a couple of big penalties: very high heating and high deceleration – especially in Earth’s atmosphere. It is a much different reuse challenge than F9 first stage return … and a new challenge for the SpaceX team.

  15. that would be very technically correct. Also, carbon fiber is damn near inert. It is the epoxy (or polymer) matrix of the composite that is the limiting factor.

  16. Don’t see how this would help.
    Few of the F9 landings has failed because too hard landings in any setting there more durable legs or fasteners would save the stage. And even in most of the hard landing cases it was because landing on barge.

    Now for manned missions you need some sort of escape system. I don’t think this need to be as strong as the dragon, more to walk away from failed landings, and yes you could walk away from the last fail, it would also not dogleg if manned.

  17. To me, the term cryogenic and composites shouldn’t even be used in the same sentence.

    I want the Super heavy to be a scaled up Saturn 1B type affair, with landing legs fitting between the legs–so that there is no danger of landing legs punching through a tank it it lands heavily. With a Saturn IB type design–perhaps the tanks can slide past each other–and if a fitting breaks–it breaks where you want it to break.

  18. Aerobraking is a feature, not a bug, for Mars missions the BFR is intended for. With aerobraking you don’t need to carry as much fuel for retropropulsive delta-v changes when landing on Mars. To get from low Mars orbit to the Mars surface, a spacecraft needs to dump 4.1 km/s of velocity, and that requires a lot of fuel if you aren’t going to take advantage of the Mars atmosphere to aerobrake.

  19. Carbon fiber works just fine in space. The trusswork in the Hubble Space Telescope’s optical telescope assembly (that long tube structure) is made of carbon fiber and it’s been in space for the past 28 years and holding up just fine.

    The issues with carbon fiber in BFR is the fact that it will be subjected to far greater temperature extremes and pressures, since the tanks are integral load-bearing hull structures as well as high-pressure cryogenic containment vessels (there will be no separate tank and ship outer skin) with heat shielding applied to one side of the cylinder.

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  21. I read somewhere that carbon fiber is absolutely terrible for space. Namely that it has a high wear rate due to radiation. I have no idea if that is true or not though. May relate to the change.

  22. Maybe, and if it highly reusable it still will be a revolution in space flight. If you are right about the payload maybe being a FH class the downside is that you are talking a smaller crew for explorations (forget about colonization). This FH+ would serve Starlink very well and would be great for lunar efforts. There is no market other than colonization for those really huge designs we have seen earlier. I wonder if the aggressive aerobreaking has been scaled back since that was the Achilles Heel of the Space Shuttle and drove the cost problems.

  23. Fully reusable at a minimum. If the BFB is all metal and uses pressure stabilized balloon tanking, it could be much lighter than a composite structure bearing the same loads.

  24. Using the right metals should make the thermal protection system much simpler.

    I guess they must have had some issues with the carbon composite tankage during thermal cycling.

  25. Metal frame and tanks?

    This rocket will end up taking the same payload to orbit as FH, only being (hopefully) more reusable and with a bigger fairing.

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