Only SpaceX Super Heavy Starship Will Take Us Far Beyond Apollo by 2030

IEEE Spectrum had a July 50th Anniversary of the moon landing feature about all kinds of work and plans for moon bases. IEEE covers a wide variety of launchers, landers and moonbases and it is overly complicated.

In spite of NASA currently backing a Gateway station and the ULA (United Launch Alliance) Space Launch System, any major new moon base construction or capabilities will depend upon the success of the SpaceX Super Heavy Starship.

SpaceX Starship will be able to land on the moon and it will be the largest lunar lander capable ship that is likely to be made by anyone other than SpaceX in the next fifteen years.

Space Launch System does not have a large lunar lander yet. In May 2019, NASA selected eleven companies to produce studies of a multi-element landing system that would be staged on the Lunar Orbital Platform – Gateway previous to the docking of the Artemis 3 crew. These are termed “transfer element” (to low-lunar orbit), the “descent element” to take the crew down to the Moon’s surface, and an “ascent element” that would take them back to the Gateway. After Artemis 3, it is intended to make these systems reusable through refueling. The descent element does not exist yet.

SpaceX Starship could have its orbital prototype versions flying by the end of this year and it should reach orbit within a year.

SpaceX Starship will weigh 85 tons empty and about 1350 tons (2.95 million lbs). Apollo’s Lunar Module (LM) is the heaviest vehicle to have ever landed on the Moon and it weighed maximum of 5500 kg (12,100 lb) at landing (Apollo 17). The SpaceX Starship will be able to take 10-50 times more payload to the moon than the Lunar Module.

The main technology that will take us far beyond what was done with Apollo is SpaceX Super Heavy Starship.

82 thoughts on “Only SpaceX Super Heavy Starship Will Take Us Far Beyond Apollo by 2030”

  1. I’m on that side too, pretty much a given if you have already waited 40 years after reading O’Neill. I would only say that the advantage Bezos has is not the Moon, it is Space itself as the place to expand. I hope we use the Moon with hardly any people having to be there very long, unless they are there to be there specifically, science or tourism. Settle Space, everywhere
    else is too small, too hard. Only Space supplies hope, not just a survival boat.

  2. It continues to remain apparent that nobody understands that the lion’s share of Space X’s development funding comes from NASA.

  3. Agree with the facts as stated!
    I would think of an “idea” as “there” even if not well known, and have an “independent” discovery or invention story in mind. So “descendant” is the wrong word. Logically related, better. Organizing the ideas, not rewarding the inventor.
    “It might still have layers, but the layers wouldn’t be flat.” Have just thought of a possible bias in the words. “Spider” can have a fixed, flat web, and move in a layer like most 3-D. Or, “spider” can attach single web lines to any convenient place and move about at will. No gravity!

  4. I wouldn’t expect much extra movement with layers vs without. Still need to cover the same volume in the end. Btw, UV curing with DLP or LCD only has one-directional vertical motion. They cure whole layers at a time. That’s as little motion as you can get until we get to printing in the whole volume simultaneously.

    > These [free form 3D printers] would perhaps be idea descendants of the “spider”.

    Maybe not. As with convergent evolution, there are often multiple paths to similar ideas, and not many are aware of O’Neill ideas.

    > I don’t remember any such layers in the “spider” plan.

    It might still have layers, but the layers wouldn’t be flat.

  5. Well, the layers certainly make for simpler calculation, but a lot of extra movement.
    The interesting question, to me!, is that the “spider” plan, which I still cannot find, (may have been early 80’s monthly magazine) was not based upon layers, as I remember.
    “There are a hundful of printers that do free-form 3D paths without layers, but both their mechanics and software is much more complex. So they’re still mostly in the experimental realm.” These would perhaps be idea descendants of the “spider”.
    Seems to me the structure, needed to support the printer head in g, forces movement constraints and, even worse, the product is “in” a box.
    Making a very much larger structure than the “spider” in Space would not benefit by using layers, seems to me. And I don’t remember any such layers in the “spider” plan.

  6. Almost all current 3D printing / additive is layer based. You can chose which parts of a layer to solidify, but it’s still fundamentally layered.

    You can subdivide that into voxelated and vectorized approaches, but the voxels or vectors are usually still aligned into layers. In UV-curing, laser, and inkjet systems, the voxels correspond to pixels within each layer. In filament extrusion and maybe some laser systems, the vectors correspond to the 2D path that the toolhead or laser trace though each layer.

    The first step in generating the printer instructions (after you’ve done all the prep work on the model) is almost always to run the 3D model through a slicer software, which cuts it up into layers. Then it figures out how each layer should be printed, and translates that to printer instructions.

    There are a hundful of printers that do free-form 3D paths without layers, but both their mechanics and software is much more complex. So they’re still mostly in the experimental realm.

    HP uses uses a powder-binder system with inkjets for the binder. So yes, it’s layered, and heavily capitalizes on their 2D inkjet experience.

  7. But “Shirley” the balloons are bulging because they are in an accelerating frame? Start with pure Al izing until they are as strong as the mandrel would be. Only the first need be so slow, but they are the ones that need to be cheap! And the starting mass is needed for shielding, even if not so strong as the rest.

  8. I agree that “layers” are often the basis of the tech, which lead to the name “printing” as sort of like a layer of ink. But, how the layers are activated is a separate issue, whether it is a scanning process, or from hand cut stencils. Is HP layers too?
    The more advanced idea would seem to start with points in space (both kinds) rather than surfaces. Additive Mfg seems more along those lines, as the weld is wherever it needs to be, no longer just part of a layer. I hope!

  9. There are various types of printers. The melted plastic extrusion machines build up layers on top of a base. A different type uses a vat of un-polymerized goop. A UV scanner polymerizes the surface layer, then the table drops an increment and more goop flows on top. Powder sintering lays layers of powder in the tank, levels it, then zaps it with a laser to fuse some portions. At the end you pull out the part and shake off the unfused powder, which gets recycled. An HP machine literally works like an inkjet printer. It sprays droplets where you want them, then you bake the print to harden it.

  10. Article based on pure speculation and fantasy. And far from scientific fact. The whole article can be debunked using the scientific method(=rational thinking).

  11. O’Neill called it “bootstrapping”. They have to grow incrementally, together most the time. But as FEW people as possible at first, to keep it cheap while getting started.

  12. I was talking about the reason for the name, not the current tech. I used to be a printer, so remember hearing that long ago. The orig concept had layers built up, not spots. Really!

  13. Yes, I meant Lunar. But even for other places, my general philosophy is that settlement follows infrastructure, not the other way.

  14. If you run the numbers, I think you’ll find that in at least some cases hydrogen outperforms other fuels even with the larger tanks. And generally speaking, the larger the vehicle, the less difference the tanks make, because tank mass scales with the square of the size, while fuel mass scales with the cube of the size.

    For the shuttle, I’m not sure how many other options they had at the time.

    I’ll leave further details to people more knowledgeable then me.

  15. To be fair there are entire countries on this planet where they spell aluminium incorrectly. Who knows how it is spelled on Mars?

  16. Yeah… no. I’m going to have to correct you on that one. Many actual 3D printers and standard computer printers use huge amounts of the same technology. Indeed some 3D printers use the same components and hardware as a normal paper printer, though clearly with different “ink” and printing on different media.

  17. If the ship just gets water, it should be able to refuel its tanks with its fuel cells and solar panels. This would be an initial step, to avoid having to pump gases around.

  18. And furthermore, modern 3-D is voxelated(sp?), rather than the orig layer at a time ideas. The O’Neill “spider” was thus an even bigger advance, as it is voxeled!

  19. Blue Origin has not made it to orbit. When they get over four successful launches to orbit in one year, then I will start believing Blue Origin could fulfill their promises.

  20. There are big advantages for Boeing, Lockmart, and MSFC to squeeze their eyes shut, plug their ears, and shout “la la la la la la…” at the top of their lungs.

    Think of Starship as the Singularity. You know that nothing will be the same and everything will be disrupted when it happens, but you have no idea who the winners and losers will be. The best strategy is therefore just to keep on keepin’ on, and grab as much pork as you can before Elon comes and turns out the lights.

    That said, you need to be very careful about chicken-counting with SH/SS. It will likely completely dominate the lunar logistics biz, but converting it to a crewed spacecraft that can launch, refuel, transit, land on the lunar surface, and then return to Earth via its proposed EDL profile, is going to take 6-8 years.

    For crewed use, my guess is that it first launches empty, boards crew from a commercial crew capsule in LEO, takes the crew to NRHO, and drops them off at the Gateway. That means that it replaces Orion, but the rest of the Artemis Human Landing System remains intact until lunar landing, surface ops, and ascent can be certified. And when it returns crews to earth, it will do so via powered insertion into LEO, where the commercial crew capsule will land the people.

    Only after SpaceX either flies thousands of flights or fixes that terrifying “no abort” launch and the almost-as-terrifying EDL with powered landing profile, will Starship be able to do the full mission.

  21. ULA is not a contractor on SLS. Boeing is. Lockmart, the other part of ULA, has the Orion contract.

    The SLS does use ICPS as its second stage, and ICPS is really a lightly modified version of DCSS, the second stage for Delta IV, which is indeed a ULA launcher. But Boeing designed and built Delta before ULA was in the picture and, AFAIK, they’re doing the modification work to convert DCSS into ICPS.

  22. Curiously, 3-D “printing” has nothing to do with a computer printer. It is called “printing” because the thin layers used are like “ink” layers being deposited by a printing press. Sort of.

  23. And, of course, it was not called 3-D printing.
    Janov “discovered” endorphines, by predicting them, but would not do the tap required to check. He did not call them endorphines. Similarly, he documented changes that could only come from the cellular level, but only later was epigenetics “discovered”. He has been manipulating their activity for decades with purely experiential therapy.

  24. I have yet to see a balloon sturdy enough to build a well-defined shape on. They tend to bulge between seams. By mandrel I am thinking something like aluminum sheet backed up by a truss frame. You can then wrap that with Kapton film, then start vapor-depositing your shell filler over it. Aluminized Kapton is standard space materials today. When the layer is thick enough, you can go industrial and plasma-spray thicker layers over it, while laying down carbon or other strong fibers to get embedded.

  25. Internal pressure creates a stress related to the shell thickness/total diameter. But a rotating structure also has “flywheel stress” as a function of rotation speed. You would need to do the math for a specific design to see which is larger.

  26. That sounds vaguely familiar, but looking through my SSI files and the Princeton Conference reports, I didn’t find anything that matches. That wouldn’t be 3-D printing in the modern sense, though. Personal computers barely existed back then, and CAD files to drive the spider around to the right place were still embryonic.

  27. The delta-v from LEO to the Moon surface is ~5.9 km/s. The delta-v from the Moon surface to LEO is ~2.7 km/s (with aerobraking). Total is ~8.6 km/s.

    BFS max delta-v with full cargo is 6.4 km/s, so refueling only at Earth isn’t enough for full cargo. Even if it fills up to full tanks in LEO, it won’t have enough fuel left to return. So without refueling at the Moon, the cargo capacity is still reduced. Best is both LEO and LM2 refueling.

    To be fair, those numbers are for the older version of BFS. I don’t know how the latest version compares.

    But regardless, even if you only refuel in LEO, it makes more sense to bring that fuel from a shallow gravity well. The Moon is a better source of fuel than Earth.

  28. I hope you keep all your practice in Russia! Putin is making that a country that you cannot even sleep in.

  29. “He can also think big, but has far less constraint on design, not having to sell anything (altho he does).”

    The flip side of that is that SpaceX is piling up actual operational experience; SpaceX does more actual launches in a single year than Bezos has in the entire history of Blue Horizon, and they learn something from every launch.

    That’s an advantage that’s hard to beat with just tube time.

  30. I think the goal of SpaceX’s “Starlink” is to become their own biggest customer, so that they won’t be so much at the mercy of NASA.

    NASA has already forced them to give up on powered landings for the Dragon capsule. I think they want to be in a position where NASA no longer has enough leverage to compel them to make engineering changes they disagree with.

    That’s not to say they won’t want NASA’s business, or to be able to use NASA’s assets, just that they’re under NASA’s thumb right now, and they want out.

  31. You are fighting a lost argument against O’Neill. Now that we are going to the Moon, we cannot be stopped.

  32. Much less payload capacity without refueling. Rocket equation is a b-ch.

    Hydrogen isn’t difficult to produce if you have water and energy. And needed as an intermediate if you want to make methane (e.g on Mars).

    IMO, fuel is a more valuable use of Lunar water. Much bigger ROI than a colony (not just monetary – I mean in terms of future space development).

  33. My guess re “mass efficient” is energy density per unit mass. Isp qualifies too, and is related to energy density.

    Hydrogen beats methane by both counts, so it can be said to be “more mass efficient”. But it’s more difficult to handle.

  34. In fairness, a big reason ISS cost so much is that it relied on a launch platform that cost $20,000 per pound.

  35. Honestly if your selling me that you can build Oneil cylinders I see no reason I should wait for them and not just build a ship and go start doing space stuff.

  36. Hydrogen is also a nightmare to work with and keep in tanks.

    Methane is a lot easier to store and can be cheaply produced on Mars and even then moon sense it will have CO2 and has Methane already anyways,

    Just because SpaceX uses Methane doesn’t mean doesn’t mean Hydrogen is never used again its just easier to use Methane.

    BTW Calling Musk idea to Colonize Mars as a fantasy while talking about people building imaginary space stations is quite odd. The ISS cost 100 billion to build. Musk estimates a colony on mars cost of between 200 bil to a trillion by 2050. What you want would cost at least that much and in the end….be right next to earth where the same freaking nations on earth could control it.

    Honestly if we are going to Colonize Mars we will be building massive space stations at some time anyways if for nothing more than construction gantrys for large transport ships so….like the Helium methane things….

  37. “Hydrogen is not the best fuel to use”
    Why does Krafft Ehricke’s Centaur second stage use it, or the shuttle, or Japan . . .?
    But you are obviously the one who knows, so convince them of their error.
    Also, I try to avoid doing things I don’t need to, in general, unless they are fun.

  38. Why would you refuel when you don`t need to. Hydrogen is not the best fuel to use. It requires larger tanks and is very difficult to produce. It is better to use the water there for drinking water for the colony and the oxygen for breathing. Musk is going to Mars in 2024. That what his plans are.

  39. Yes, but my mighty efforts to advertise Mars would only be pathetic compared to the existing hype.
    However, solving global heating and population expansion, or even starting Earth population minimalization, with O’Neill/Bezos/Criswell ideas is hardly ever heard of! Of course, nobody cares about those topics.

  40. Why would NASA’s funding end? With a proper rocket that Spacex is developing, NASA can finally start doing things in space that a proper space agency should do. Instead of tiny space stations and space telescopes that cost 10’s of billions of dollars, we’d now have the ability to send up much more material to build orders of magnitude more capable scientific instruments at a fraction of the cost. We’d have the infrastructure to learn more about space and living in space in a month than the entirety of NASAs existence. Instead of hundreds of engineers working on a rover that’s far less capable than a simple ATV on earth at the cost of billions of dollars, engineers can start working on proper space vehicles and infrastructure.

    NASA isn’t the enemy, in fact it will likely be SpaceX’s biggest customer for a long time and SpaceX will be highly reliant on NASA for a lot of things it wants to accomplish.

  41. “pressure vessels” as you know, unless I am wrong!, the main stress of an O’Neill large structure is the air pressure, not the g. Surprising, if true.
    “plasma spraying” again, as you know, is much cheaper in a vacuum!

  42. I have a VERY clear recollection of seeing a description of a “spider” that would “hang” on wires, in Space of course, and move around depositing small amounts of glass or alumunumunium, or however it is spelled, thus building up a structure that was MUCH LARGER than it. This was *probably* in a long lost SSI or L-5 publication, definitely from before 1980. I will do more research(edit: HELP!), as this has always bugged me to not be granted to O’Neill, or whomever wrote it!

  43. Have you considered the possibility that “Mars” is a way to attract good engineers with an exciting project, while Musk is fully aware that there are other things to do in space?

    He’s perfectly happy to go to the Moon if someone wants to buy a trip, as evidenced by the “Dear Moon” mission.

    Once launch costs are brought down, all kinds of markets make economic sense: tourism, space manufacturing, scientific outposts and big telescopes in more places, etc.

  44. > O’Neill proposed 3-D printing of large habs long ago.

    Do you have a source for that? If I recall, he passed away before 3D printers were a thing.

    I have given thought to how to build large, strong pressure vessels in space. Filament winding is a common method to build large pressure vessels. If we add plasma spraying of metal filler to make it leakproof, we can get high strength finished products.

    Putting a habitat shell on a rotating mandrel in zero-g would be straightforward. The filament spool and plasma sprayer stay fixed, to face the sun and get power, while the shell turns underneath.

    The mandrel is in sections, and is disassembled and removed out the ends to be used for the next shell. The ends are then plugged with hatches.

  45. > for anything that’s not too fragile we’ll want mass drivers.

    Actually, centrifugal catapults are more suitable for early bulk material delivery. They can be built arbitrarily small and low power. A mass driver requires a very big power supply, because you are accelerating payload over a short distance.

    For example, assume a 300 meter mass driver pushing a 1 kg payload to 1750 m/s. Acceleration time is 0.343 seconds, and final kinetic energy is 1.53 MJ. With perfect efficiency, the power level required is 4.46 MW.

    This is OK if you are launching 3 kg/second = 94,671 tons/year. For that throughput you can build a big power source, like a multi-megawatt nuclear reactor.

    A centrifugal catapult is a rotating arm with an electric motor to spin it up. In a vacuum and with magnetic bearings, you can take a long time to get it up to speed, and therefore get by with a much smaller power supply. Conversely, the spin up time means a lower throughput. Which is the better answer depends how much stuff you are launching off the Moon.

  46. True. (I believe you mean “Except”?).
    But given Musk’s true belief in the importance of refueling, it may be best to use H. Once you realize Mars is not an important, urgent goal, as O’Neill is.
    Even so, it will certainly be useful. 1,000 at a time to ELEO with the booster, 100 to Mars. And very little difference until H factory in Space opens.

  47. Well, I did not know Musk was planning a lunar colony!
    As I have said, M. Moon has won v Mars Direct, so the emergency of the last 40 years is over.
    The more long term can now be considered, so I am using O’Neill v planets rather than Moon ISRU (for Mars) v Mars Direct. They both argue for M. Moon, but O’Neill leaves Mars to others. Musk’s rockets are welcome, they do not have to be the most perfect, just the best at this time. The market will settle out later, now that we ARE developing the Moon!

  48. None of that changes the fact that Musk can land an order of magnitude more cargo on the moon per flight, probably at less cost since his entire vehicle is reusable. He can build a lunar colony faster, and nothing’s stopping SpaceX from building a hydrogen-fueled engine by the time lunar mines are ready to export to O’Neill construction sites.

    And while in theory the Starship could have been slightly more optimized for the moon by e.g. skipping reentry shielding, there’s an advantage to using the same rocket for everything. You get lower costs with economy of scale.

  49. The regulatory burden on nuclear adds a lot to the cost; If you’ve got a site where the light is reliable, it’s probably not worth it except for emergency life support power.

    Agreed in the long run, though: Once the people in space get to make their own decisions, they’ll go nuclear in a big way. Why not, they’ll already have to be dealing with radiation?

    Note: Mars has both untapped Uranium deposits, AND the water there is enriched in Deuterium; (7-8 times compared to Earth.) I bet it won’t be long after a Mars colony is established before they build their own Candu reactor out of local resources.

  50. He’s comparing construction on Luna/Mars and construction in space. You are saying it would be cheaper to build on Earth. Thanks for teaching us about marvelous stupidity.

  51. Okay, thanks.

    I know something of the pros and cons of H and CH4. I disagree that by this difference alone that Bezos has “more inherent ability.” The crystal ball that can predict that doesn’t exist.

    I can’t disagree that Bezos has more interest in the Moon than Musk, but I don’t think that matters. Though Musk’s final goal is Mars the hardware he is producing is very largely general purpose. Musk is interested in providing transportation services for anyone that can pay to anywhere his spacecraft can reach. If the Moon pays he’ll be happy to go to the Moon. And if Starship turns out to achieve performance numbers in the ball park of the design intent and does so in a time frame comparable to what SpaceX has achieved so far, then they are going to be very far ahead of Bezos, who hasn’t even reached orbit yet. That doesn’t mean they’ll stay there forever, but a big lead is a big advantage.

    Personally I hope they are both hugely successful and I wish they’d hurry the fuck up already. I’m on the downhill side of my life and I want to see human activity in space in a big way before I die.

  52. O’Neill proposed 3-D printing of large habs long ago. And it is easier to do construction in Space than on a planet. We are currently testing in Space 3-D printing, so it does exist. What does not exist is planetary habitat construction testing.
    BE4 seems maybe not quite as *hot* as Raptor, but about the same. Bezos has big rockets planned, too. And he just doubled his normal stock sale, so something must be happening!

  53. Nuclear would be nice for interplanetary, but chemical rocketry is perfectly feasible for at least the inner planets, given orbital refueling.

  54. I love Musk and his rockets. I am a LabPadre addict! No problem with big cheap rockets at all.
    But Musk’s Starship is designed to land on Mars, and has atmos shielding to do so. And CH4 fuel, not H. It is very good for sub-orbital, but that is almost an afterthought.
    Bezos’ CH4 engines are about as good as Musk’s, but his H engine is a big deal. He can also think big, but has far less constraint on design, not having to sell anything (altho he does).
    O’Neill’s vision includes “bootstrapping” at every step, at every scale, at all points in the process. Elegance over size. Bezos setting up a small shop on the Moon will eventually beat Musk to O’Neill. Musk is really is just selling a lunar service, not interested in that destination at all. No problem using the service, but forget Mars!

  55. Technically, if you’re at the lunar poles you can have access to sunlight continuously.

    I think Bezos has made the right decision for the Moon, and Musk for Mars. They’re both pursuing rational means to their own ends.

    Are they necessarily the ends I would have chosen? No, I’m an asteroid colonization fan. But, am I kicking in a billion dollars? No.

    He who pays the piper calls the tune, and the audience listening for free probably shouldn’t gripe so much.

  56. Chemical rocketry is not going to be taking crewed payload much farther than lunar distances by 2030, if ever.

  57. O’Neill is cool but construction tech is non-existent at the moment. Also, forget not that BE4 are for sale and maybe collaboration?

  58. Blue Moon’s cargo capacity is only four tons. SpaceX Starship could land dozens of tons, while also carrying enough fuel for the return trip. As long as we’re concerned with moving things to the moon from Earth, that makes Starship way better for the task.

    Eventually, when we want to export things from the moon to O’Neill colonies, then lunar refueling will help. But we’ll need something a lot bigger than Blue Moon for that, and for anything that’s not too fragile we’ll want mass drivers.

  59. See the hour long presentation by Bezos, where he showed off the Blue Moon lander. He was emphatic that it was an H rocket, (thus not like Musk’s CH4), so it could be refueled with lunar water products, and also use the venting H to run fuel cells, rather than using the normal solar panels, as the Moon has a nite. H is also more efficient mass wise, so is used for Centaur, for ex.
    This difference is entirely due to Musk’s Mars fantasy, as H is the accepted plan for almost everyone else after the booster, no matter what the task. It is just so much lighter.
    The big thing is O’Neill. The Moon is not an incidental gateway to Mars. It is the source of our future in the stars.

  60. “He understands O’Neill, has H in-space vehicles, and thus more inherent ability and interest in the Moon than Musk.”

    I can’t parse that. Can you unpack it?

  61. Don’t forget Bezos. He understands O’Neill, has H in-space vehicles, and thus more inherent ability and interest in the Moon than Musk. Altho admittedly a few years behind, he has a rational plan, which may help!

  62. It’s very strange to see the aerospace establishment pretending that they live in an alternate timeline where SpaceX doesn’t exist. That’s mostly what Aviation Week and Space Technology looks like.

    Breaking the Spell may be the best reason for SpaceX to just go ahead and Land Starship on the moon.

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