NASA Assessment Reveals SpaceX Super Heavy Starship Details

There is a 250 page draft from NASA with an environmental assessment of the SpaceX Super Heavy Starship that reveals new information about SpaceX technology.

Plan for 24 Launches Per Year

The SpaceX goal is to eventually launch Starship/Super Heavy approximately 24 times per year. As Starship/Super Heavy launches gradually increase to 24 launches per year, the number of launches of the Falcon would decrease. The Starship and Super Heavy would exceed the lift capabilities of the Falcon Heavy. Due to the higher lift capability, Starship/Super Heavy could launch more payloads and reduce the overall launch cadence when compared to Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. This would increase the cost-effectiveness of the space industry. Starship/Super Heavy missions would include Lunar and Mars destinations, currently not supported by any other space vehicle, increased satellite payload missions, and human spaceflight. Missions could range from tests of the launch vehicle and ship, to cargo delivery. The manifest is incomplete at this time but would evolve as the rocket develops. There could be multiple launches in close succession required to support a single mission (i.e., Lunar Program sending multiple payloads to resupply). Prior to launch, during initial phases of Starship/Super Heavy development, SpaceX would perform rehearsals without propellants on the vehicle (dry) and rehearsals with propellants on the vehicle (wet) to verify full launch readiness. Dry and wet rehearsals were conducted during the development of the Falcon 9. A static fire test of the Super Heavy booster and the Starship would be performed prior to each launch. The static tests would be similar to that currently done for Falcon, with the booster held in place while engines are ignited to simulate the initial stage of launch. The test would be used to assess the performance of the Raptor engines prior to launch.

Landing pad 39A will get new structures and upgrades to existing facilities.

A new methane farm would accommodate a total capacity of approximately 2 million kg. Approximately 1.5 million kg of liquid nitrogen would also be stored in the methane farm. The liquid nitrogen is a cryogenic and would be used to cool the methane. The methane and nitrogen farm would require lighting similar to the existing RP-1 farm located at LC-39A. If a new methane flare stack is needed, the flare would be approximately 30 meters tall.

20 thoughts on “NASA Assessment Reveals SpaceX Super Heavy Starship Details”

  1. Texas (Boca Chica) isn’t a NASA site. You can be sure SpaceX are (or will be) doing what they need to do to prepare it for their new rocket.

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  2. It used to be only governments. Now it’s governments and billionaires.

    I agree that billionaires do tend look for more immediate returns, but Elon Musk is partially an exception with his Mars plans. Those are clearly beyond GEO, and not likely to have monetary return anytime soon. But you could say that Mars has non-monetary return for Musk, because he believes it’s important for other reasons.

    Bezos is another exception with his $1 billion/year investment in Blue Origin, which may not see monetary return for a while either. He too expects returns in other ways (as well as monetary eventually). Bezos, btw, is aiming for the Moon, which is also beyond GEO, but he’ll be using his own rockets for that.

    Speaking of which, there is short-term(ish) opportunity on the Moon: extracting water for orbital refueling. And a similar opportunity in mining asteroids, also beyond GEO. There are a number of start-ups working towards both.

    The Moon is also a target for tourism. SpaceX already has a contract for a round-trip there, for now without landing (much easier).

    NASA also wants to go to the Moon, but they want to use SLS. Maybe that’s why they’re planning only 2000 tons of methane storage.

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  3. The only business beyond GEO are currently government missions. Only governments are capable of investing in things with zero or very long term direct monetary returns.

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  4. Right, so what I’m saying is two launches worth of buffer seems a little small. Based on previous discussions, anything beyond LEO (and maybe GEO) would need several refueling launches. I guess they’re planning for mostly LEO missions for now.

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  5. Thus the need for a buffer; The tankage only needs to hold two launches worth of fuel to maintain cadence so long as the processing plant can keep up with the average load. Some missions involving refueling might require resorting to a second launch site, though.

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  6. In theory you can do THAT with nothing more than a light weight sun shade; The temperatures in space easily get that low if you’re in shadow, without any nearby warm objects radiating towards you.

    You’d need to keep the living areas of the Starship warm, of course, but you could probably manage that with waste heat from the life support system. Put the solar panels to power it on the sunward side of the sunshade.

    It’s a manageable problem, anyway.

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  7. The biggest challenge in near future is to provide enough payload. The existing R&D structure is a very satic and slow. A new engineering and scientific infrastructure need to be established. It need to be done by using and utilizing all best practices from NASA and like. Might be exciting new development to watch and maybe participate in.

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  8. Suppose we should go look?
    Story was outshined by water results so it was barely there.
    use LCROSS in search and suddenly it is everywhere.
    (edit: recent NOVA about Earth-Moon formation sez volcanoes of early Moon emitted the C stuff, I think!)

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  9. Hmm, yes, but it’s not as simple as just plugging in a pipe and a pump. It needs to go through a compression and liquefaction process, and maybe purification before that. So the question is, what capacity their methane processing plant is. It may not be designed for a quick refill.

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  10. Interesting. No mention of volatiles in Wikipedia.

    A while back I read elsewhere that carbon concentration in general Lunar soil is very low, presumably because carbonaceous asteroids vaporize almost completely on impact. The LCROSS result may represent deeper deposits, and more characteristic of the shadowed crater areas. But the LCROSS impact energy was “equivalent of 2 tons of TNT”, so probably not much deeper – maybe just a few meters. On the other hand, it’s only one measurement, so who knows how characteristic it actually is.

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  11. First payload to the moon should be a LUNOX plant. Maybe a custom build starship that is the plant.

    It’ll pay for itself because you can put something like 3x the mass on the moon with a LUNOX top off.

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  12. “The suite of LCROSS and LRO instruments determined as much as 20 percent of the material kicked up by the LCROSS impact was volatiles, including methane, ammonia, hydrogen gas, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.” from science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2010/21oct_lcross2/

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  13. Since the lunar ice is comet derived, and comets typically include some carbon based molecules, (CO2, CO, CH4) it can be expected that the lunar ice will have at least some fraction of those species in it.

    Not high, though, as they all have substantially higher vapor pressures than water at any given temperature.

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  14. 24 times a year is roughly every two weeks, on average. But some of these will need extra tanker launches to refuel in orbit.

    With the extra tanker launches in mind, 2000 tons on methane seems a bit small. A single full-stack launch would take about half of that.

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  15. It’s at least possible to get the oxygen from the Moon. That alone accounts for almost 80% of the fuel mass.

    In principle, one could bring water from the Moon, and carbon from Earth, and make the Methalox in LEO (as well as in LM2). That would save a little more mass, but needs more infrastructure and some extra R&D.

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  16. It would be nice to be able to mine and deliver the fuel from the Moon, but I am not sure if this is possible for methane based fuels. But hydrogen would be possible to mine on the Moon. We are passed the time to use nuclear thermal propulsion. Imagine ships built in the Moon orbit, fueled and sent to the farthest corners of the Solar system. BFR can make that happen.

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