Age of Steel Spaceliners

Elon Musk says his best ever rocket design decision was switching to 301 stainless steel for the construction of the SpaceX Super Heavy Starship. SpaceX was already the fastest builder of rockets. SpaceX has built the orbital prototype of the Starship to near completion in four months. SpaceX is continuing to develop faster and lighter construction as they iterate on construction and design.


* SpaceX Super Heavy Starship will fly to orbit around March 2020. It could fly astronauts by fourth quarter of 2020
* Full reusability will transform costs to nearly match passenger jet planes
* Age of Steel Spaceliners will be rapid construction and rapid improvement of rockets
* Raptor engine productions are the limiting factor on the number of SpaceX Super Heavy Starships that are built. About 45 Raptor engines are needed for each Super Heavy Starship.
* In 2020, SpaceX should build 300 Raptor Engines. In 2021, SpaceX should be building 500 Raptor engines per year. If there is the market, SpaceX could build more Raptor engine factories.
* Late in the 2020s, if SpaceX can make the Starship much safer then they could fly between cities on Earth. This would directly transform passenger travel on Earth.

World War 2 versus World War 1 Aviation

In his presentation on Starship, Elon Musk observed that the entire current fleet of rockets can put 300 tons into orbit. A fleet of 20 SpaceX Super Heavy Starships would be able to place about 3 million tons into orbit in one year. This would be flying them 3 times per day on every day.

There were 300 tons of bombs dropped in World War 1. This was sometimes with hand dropped bombs or from slightly heavier duty bi-planes, but there were purposely design bombers. The allies in World War 2 dropped 3 million tons of bombs.

About 600 Handley Page bombers were built and they could drop up to 3000 lbs of bombs.

In World War 2, the B-29 could drop 20,000 lbs of bombs.

Growth of Commercial Spaceliners to Approximate the Path of Commercial Aviation

The costs of flying to orbit will drop dramatically with fully reusable rockets. The costs will approach the operating and maintenance cost of the vehicles. Those are the costs of commercial aviation.

The cost of the rocket is dropping dramatically with the age of steel rockets. The cost is $2500 per ton of 301 stainless steel. This is instead $130,000 per ton of carbon fiber. This would mean that the main body of a 120-ton rocket will be $300,000 instead of $15.6 million.

The largest benefits is reduced labor costs and far faster construction. SpaceX should four complete Starships and two complete Super Heavy boosters built by March 2020. SLS has taken nine years to get the full components built for their first rocket. Standard rocket industry construction times are more like 1-2 years.

The Age of Steel Spaceliners will also be the Age of One Hour Anywhere on Earth

Late in the 2020s, if SpaceX Develops Vastly Improved Starship Safety – International Air Travel Will be Disrupted. This will be worth trillions of dollars per year in revenue to SpaceX.

Elon Musk tweeted that he is looking at 1000 passengers for point to point travel. Because it will be a 20-minute flight on a fully reusable then the ticket cost could be $500-1000 per person. It will feel like a roller coaster but you will exit on another continent.

The passengers will be a reclined position like the seating seen in the SpaceX Dragon. This means each floor of seating would only be about 1-meter high. There would be about three levels of stacked seats that exit onto each circular walkway.

Ticket prices in the $500 to 2000 range would be business class or even competitive with international economy airline tickets. However, the flight times would be 20 minutes instead of 8-24 hours.

If SpaceX can reach improved safety then they would be able to replace almost all flights with over 8 hours of flying time for coach, business, first-class, and private jets.

100 million passengers per year would be about $100 billion per year of revenue.
1 billion passengers per year would be about $1 trillion per year of revenue.

SpaceX will be able to start with one hour package or urgent deliveries anywhere in the world. Instead of overnight delivery, it will be one-hour deliveries.

SOURCES – SpaceX, Elon Musk, Analysis by Brian Wang, Wikipedia on WW1 and WW2 information, IATA commercial air statistics
Written By Brian Wang,

97 thoughts on “Age of Steel Spaceliners”

  1. Waterfall survives in management because the top brass is nervous about not having a chronogram for next semester, only the next two to four weeks. So they prefer to construct a fiction using Waterfall to have numbers they can put in a slide, even if everyone knows they are bogus.

  2. “There were 300 tons of bombs dropped in World War 1” (LOL)
    “About 600 Handley Page bombers were built and they could drop up to 3000 lbs of bombs.”
    Let me clarify:
    Each one of those 600 that were built could drop up to 3000 lbs of bombs in each mission (in truth, more than that, for the later marks).
    And there were many other heavy WWI bombers like the German Gothas, the Italian Capronis, etc..
    So, perhaps revisit your math?

  3. It’ll be great to make it to anywhere on Earth in under an hour, though the airport to final destination time then will become an even more irritating factor, and so will the early arrival for security and baggage check then too (If Musk can cure that he’ll really win the innovation prize).

    Yes Mr Musk is encountering the same troubles with bureaucracy as everyone else. However if he can embrace bureaucracy and optimise the steps with automation etc. then he stands a very good chance of bringing these times down.

  4. I definitely agree. SpaceX dev funds are tight and they need to be used as efficiently as possible. Hopefully as revenue increases they will have more R&D cash to splash on optimisations.

  5. Being a long term IT specialist I’m certainly convinced of the merits of Agile over Waterfall delivery. However there is a case for Waterfall and in fact many shops run a hybrid model. Delivery is Agile, management reporting (periodic) is Waterfall. This could be management laziness but it works when the defined outcomes are known and static. Agile is best when “we just don’t know everything”.

  6. Yep. Our experience building with and using steel is much bigger than the one with titanium. A lot more knowledge about how it will react to different stimuli and situations.

    It is far cheaper too, and not a bad choice for construction material at all.

    This is yet another example where the perfect is the enemy of the good.

  7. Musk had said starship on its own can fly 6000 miles. A Raptor engine is about 2x more powerful than a Merlin, so Starship with 6 Raptors will be a bit louder then a Falcon 9 and way less than Falcon heavy at liftoff. So for Starship Single Stage Suborbital the noise shouldn’t be a showstopper.

  8. They will be sandblasted regardless, same as ISS solar arrays are full of holes due to micrometeorites. Also, they will be thermocycled with about 300C swing every two weeks. Also they will get the neutron flux from the galactic radiation impact on lunar surface. In short, they will fail fairly quickly for indeterminate reason, and that will be a big surprise.

  9. There is a limit at which complexity exceeds human mind’s capacity to model reality. Also there is limit of knowledge. Examples are numerous, with bridge collapsing due to unimagined resonances, a certain space telescope discovering that its lens is wrong after launch, a certain particle accelerator magnet failing catastrophically after installation, countless discoveries in airplanes after they are built or even crashed, and the less said about software, the better. Ground truth is requisite for maintaining the ability to model without such surprises.
    On the point of titanium, look back at how much trouble Soviets went through while building the first titanium submarine. They called it “goldfish” due to the cost of that learning curve. If SpaceX has no experience or equipment for welding large titanium parts, and they prioritise speed over everything else, titanium is an excellent choice for stopping BFR project, and then cancelling it due to overspending. That is why their choice of steel is correct. For them, there is nothing better.

  10. Their primary purpose is as control surfaces, sure. But nevertheless, they do add a significant amount of area to the underside, which likely increases the amount of aerobraking the BFS can do. If they intended to mostly fold them out of the way, they could’ve used smaller surfaces that would weigh less.

    I agree they would need to actively move to maintain control, but they can produce the most force when they’re close to perpendicular to the air flow – especially in the thin Martian atmosphere. I expect they would be partially folded back, maybe ~30-45 deg from perpendicular. That gives some initial stability (mostly against roll). And then they’d make fairly small movements from there. Also, SpaceX might move the smaller front fins more, for the front-back rotation control (pitch).

    I don’t see these as lift surfaces at all – not if and while the ship is going in perpendicularly (belly-forward, like a sky diver). IF at some point it’ll be going closer to nose-forward, then yes.

    (Note that I’m talking mostly about Mars. On Earth, the profile may indeed be closer to flying, i.e. nose forward, as you point out in your other post. In that case, the fins should indeed act more as lift surfaces. But they should still contribute to drag if the angle of attack is sufficiently far from zero.)

  11. Yes, all power to him, and the SpaceX “process” is leading the pack, no doubt. But there is nothing stopping Ford today from making a 200 mpg ICE sedan that has a 1,000 mile range and runs on regular, for under 50k, from drawing board to showroom (not that you need a showroom) in < 2yrs. They won’t make it because it will destroy their company (oldthink) versus becoming the new T-Ford (newthink).

  12. I think SLS is a bureaucrat’s wet dream. Though they have their “new and improved” systems/engineering/integration process, it is still largely good old NASA. Far removed from “industry 6.0”, and so is SpaceX (though SpaceX is so much further ahead in product build newthink). It’s a mindset thing. Remember how long it took before Deming was accepted by the mainstream.

  13. Big fins seem more needed to balance the rear-heavy nature of Starship during braking, than for flying the Starship. The Starship body alone might provide enough lift to ‘fly’, if its mass were evenly distributed and it had just some small fins to keep the ship at the desired pitch for lift, and to prevent roll and yaw.

  14. Unlike 301 Stainless Steel, Titanium will combust in the presence of atmospheric oxygen when heated to 1200C. Titanium will also combust in the presence of pure oxygen at 600C.

    The high-temperature properties of Titanium is why it’s a bad idea to use it on Starship’s hull. If a heat tile falls off and a little bit of titanium is exposed during re-entry, it may very well burn a hole through the hull. If that little bit of exposed titanium is in the LOX tank area, that hole will burn through even faster, from both sides.

    That’s not to say Ti won’t have a place in the Starship Superheavy architecture. The Superheavy booster grid fins will be huge cast pieces of titanium, and they will work just fine for that purpose, since staging velocity for Superheavy will be in the neighborhood of 3 km/s or so, so booster re-entry isn’t particularly hot and the Ti grid fins won’t be heated to anywhere near their combustion temperature. Re-entry temperatures at orbital speeds (9 km/s or faster) for which Starship is designed for is a whole different ball of wax.

  15. Both tanks are good for for ISRU Lunar oxygen. First spaceship to land needs to be a ISRU LUNOX plant.

  16. Look at all those mirrors/solar panels on that moon base just waiting to get “sand-blasted” by bits of lunar dust accelerted to 1km/s by the rocket exhaust.

    No atmosphere on the moon means you should at the very least land in a crater so that you don’t kick too much dust around.

  17. The cool part about steel is that when the rocket falls over during landing… you can have Steel shrapnel going everyWhere instead of wimpy composite crap…

  18. I wouldn’t be surprised if the science teacher wasn’t aware of the subtle difficulties that Brett brings up.

  19. and if you can use stainless to build ships capable of atmospheric exit and entry, you can build them to make space habitats.

  20. just tether two of them together and spin them to simulate gravity.
    It’ll be a while before we can bootstrap the space industry to build oh-so-worthy O’Neill cylinders.
    But not much longer…

  21. thanks, it was the novelty of the idea 50 plus years ago when my science teacher tried to make a point, that I apparently mistook.

  22. What you’re looking at for both Mars and Earth is a two stage process, likely: First pass through the atmosphere kills your interplanetary transit speed, leaving you in an elliptical orbit with perigee inside the atmosphere. The second pass takes your speed down to the point where you can reach the surface and finish up with retro-rockets.

    If the Starship is coming in to Earth basically empty, it might be able to skip the first step, because the heat is proportional to the mass, and is less per square meter if the Starship is landing empty.

    Mars is actually a good destination for this, because the low gravity implies a very deep atmosphere that varies slowly in density. Pulling this off around Earth is tricky, because the atmospheric zone that’s thick enough for braking, but not so thick you burn up, is fairly narrow.

    That’s why the Starship is designed to be able to fly, not just fall: So it can stay in the thin air until most of its speed is spent.

  23. I’m pretty sure they’re mostly control and lift surfaces, and only secondarily added drag. Maintaining that “sky diver” profile without tumbling is going to take active control, this isn’t a dynamically stable orientation.

  24. More likely at the end of its life the engines will be removed, and it will end up as living space in a colony.

  25. Yes, there are better approaches, if you assume the designers have a god-like capacity to avoid overlooking something.

  26. Not unless the mating surfaces are perfectly clean and match on the atomic level. Though you can relax that latter constraint a bit by applying pressure.

    But it’s a lousy weld unless used for lap welding, because the grain structure is interrupted at the bond. Basically a “tear along the dotted line” situation.

    In practice vacuum welding is just a pain in the rear, not actually useful outside of very special circumstances, like isostatic pressing clean powder into a solid billet.

  27. Can’t you just place two pieces together and they join atomicly?
    Without atmosphere to sully the joint?

  28. If this friend worked in the foaming process, then he would know why: the foam is not very sound, and contains air pockets. In space, it would slowly start to pop off, releasing a cloud of foam debris. Kessler problem.

  29. “Before the Model T, cars were a luxury item: At the beginning of 1908, there were fewer than 200,000 on the road. Though the Model T was fairly expensive at first (the cheapest one initially cost $825, or about $18,000 in today’s dollars), it was built for ordinary people to drive every day. It had a 22-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and was made of a new kind of heat-treated steel, pioneered by French race car makers, that made it lighter (it weighed just 1,200 pounds) and stronger than its predecessors had been. It could go as fast as 40 miles per hour and could run on gasoline or hemp-based fuel. (When oil prices dropped in the early 20th century, making gasoline more affordable, Ford phased out the hemp option.) “No car under $2,000 offers more,” ads crowed, “and no car over $2,000 offers more except the trimmings.”

    If Musk can make his Model T work – more power to him.

  30. Design. Design. Review. Design. Plan. Design. Plan. Design. Plan. Review. Design. Plan…

    And you end up with the SLS.

    I think Musk has the right idea. He’s not optimizing every system – he’s building what works even if it’s not the lightest and best.

    We’ll see what wins.

  31. What strikes me about this initial iteration of starship is that apart from the rockets, any fabrication shop on earth could build it. The avionics & control systems can be made by anyone. It is the raptor that is the distinguishing feature.

    Now as we move on to further stages of development the weld testing and standards of manufacture will increase. But at the end of the day its still doable by any skilled welding shop. The electronics by any skilled company.

    Its the raptor that is special.

  32. I never said you have to make one giant leap without thinking. Complex systems is always about smaller parts fitting together. You can make thousands of small steps cross-functionally and in parallel. This allows you to go from drawing board to production version and skip the prototyping. It’s a mindset. The brains are there, just requires organization and willingness. The Manhattan Project took less than 3 years from concept to production (they knew Trinity would work and thought a test was a waste of time and money). Translate this into modern day process.

  33. i Would only agree to travel to Asia on a 30 minute starship flight if the Chairs on the ship have an arm to shoot drugs into your neck like in expanse tv series…

  34. That’s bullcrap…. fast turnaround with incremental steps is always the correctly why to design when the problem is too big to solve in one giant leap…it’s exactly how Complex software is made…. you solve one component of the problem at a time And keep layering and adapting the knowledge gained in each step…then you add all knowledge together…and solve the problem all together…use of cheap materials is key to being able to turn around in smaller steps…. if cost of materials is high then you are forced to use larger jump sizes between prototypes…Even nasa is solving the problem the same way… sls1 … sls2… etc… the difference is that their material cost is extremely expensive for each step and those they thrash around using more time to complete each step…

  35. Business class (and up) is the primary source of airline profitability, and long-range flights have the best profit margin. If SpaceX takes business class away from airlines simply because of one-hour duration anywhere, airlines in their current form may not even survive, along with airports (BFR would not be allowed to operate from airports). And “business” in business class will absolutely switch to anything with one-hour duration, once its safety is proven.

  36. I can’t see this point to point working, somehow.
    You need a launch site – and its got to be further away
    than your standard airport. The sound will be like a small
    nuclear bomb going off. And the rocket will break the
    speed of sound coming back down.
    Are these going to be show stoppers?

  37. yes, “thinner”, but you know what I mean. But there is a recipe to “get all the bugs out” by eliminating (nearly) all the bugs in the first place. Imagine creating a new material from scratch to build a machine from scratch, that has never been done, or even contemplated. I dunno, take a “car that get 500 miles to an “energy” refill”.

    So you take the “holistic” view with the business model, the build, the design, the metrics/monitoring all at the same time with all the right people in a room. A simple thing like what is the problem trying to solve. Then go through every iteration until you hit diminishing returns. Eliminate all the useless work, get the process designed (not just the widget). Then get to work. It appears tedious and boring (especially the engineers just want “to get to work on it”) but is absolutely essential. Lots of automation and productivity tools help. but mostly it is a mind set. Also for investors who like to see “progress” and stuff coming out of a shop. It’s a DNA thing, more than a technical challenge. I know this sounds textbooky, but it works.

  38. Regardless of path, the aerobraking is with the underside pointed close to 90 deg to the direction of travel. Based on the renderings, those fins add ~20-30% area to the underside, if not closer to 50%. That probably helps non-negligibly.

    edit: on 2nd look at the photos of the mk1, looks closer to ~25%. Maybe 30% if you include the front fins.

  39. Well, make the assumption then. I’ve been involved in that and the tech makes SpaceX look like a T-Ford. Industry 4.0 is old school, industry 6.0 can be done today. At least, our little team has.

  40. I’m likely to be flying to visit my inlaws in Asia next year, and given the choice between a 20 minute roller coaster, and 27 hours (Each way!) jammed in an airline seat, you bet I’d go for the roller coaster.

  41. Disagree. I was involved in a very leading edge development. All the invested capital was on up-front. “Agile” is merely a business process to eliminate redundant and useless work. Nothing new.
    I wouldn’t consider SLS anything close to best practice “do it right first time”, they are the poster boy for bad process.

  42. TI has a good strength to weight ratio, (No, the Ti wouldn’t be thinner, it would be less dense, instead.) and excellent thermal properties, and doubtless could be used in place of the 301 stainless. At 8 times the cost, of course, which means fewer test cycles on the same budget. But at some point, it might be worth it, once the general design has been optimized, all the early bugs discovered. Or maybe not, the higher cost might not provide enough extra performance to be cost effective.

    But I absolutely have to disagree with this:

    Fast build, tinker, fail, learn, and do it again. That is actually a massively wrong approach. It is far better to do all the planning up-front and then build it right first time around. Saves money and time.

    This is why SpaceX is making money flying hardware, while Bezos’ Blue Origin is still a money pit. SpaceX is paid to ascend the learning curve!

    Doing all your planning up front, and building it right the first time around, makes a huge assumption: That you know enough to get it right the first time around. That is a really foolish assumption to make when you’re working at something at the bleeding edge of technology.

  43. Do all the planning up front is the old way of doing things, more similar to how SLS is being built. SpaceX’ approach is borrowed from agile software development. The agile methodology was developed to solve various problems with the old ways. In the end, fast iterations are more efficient, and come out cheaper and faster. You have it backwards.

  44. Something I wonder about:

    Are those big fins on Starship (a) useful for Mars entry, or (b) or sufficient for Mars entry?

    My thought is that Mars atmosphere is so thin that most of the aerobraking is going to be parallel to the surface as the ship falls around the planet – with very little braking value gained from falling downward.

    I.e. the best entry path might be to fall around the planet aerobraking until you’re going so slow that you can no longer ‘miss’ the planet. Then kill your remaining horizontal velocity with your rockets – as fast and low as you can. Finally do a quick powered vertical landing.

    If it is something like that, the phase of aerobraking to shed velocity could be allowed to take longer and such big fins might not be needed – i.e. smaller fins might be enough for control. Reducing their size and hence mass (for a Mars ship) would also reduce the fuel required for the final two phases above – or you could deliver more payload.

    OTOH, maybe I’ve got it backwards and maybe Mars landers will need even bigger fins?

  45. thumbs up from me for Ti. Your key words are “historically difficult…..expensive”.
    3D printed Ti load bearing structures are now in commercial airline service, with 6meter+ single-part wing spars and other interesting geometries built off the “assembly line”. You will be surprised at the cost, Ti is much cheaper than carbon composites, but not near steel of course.

    Ti6-4 prices are about $12,000/ton versus $1,500/ton for 301 steel. Kilo for kilo in terms of “performance” (Ti will be thinner) the steel will be about 3x cheaper. But, Ti is “better”.

    Using 301 steel is a good, but shortsighted, choice. Cheap and easy and requires no real expertise. Ti you need people who know what they are doing. Musk is going the “Industry 4.0” route which is wrong in my view. Fast build, tinker, fail, learn, and do it again. That is actually a massively wrong approach. It is far better to do all the planning up-front and then build it right first time around. Saves money and time.

  46. Not to mention that Mars and the Asteroid Belt have lots of Iron (the main element in steel). They don’t call Mars the “Red Planet” for nothing.

    If you can produce fuel, steel and water on Mars, all you need is fertilizer concentrate, seeds, and pre-built rocket engines and empty rocket fuel tanks to ship to Mars from Earth to start going after Asteroid belt resources.

    Build the frames indigenous and assemble the Starships on Mars. Create the fuel on Mars. The heavy stuff.

    Get the complicated electronics, fuel tanks, and engines from Earth. The light stuff.

  47. The average passenger plane traveler is probably in middle age, somewhat out of shape, and not very flexible. I wonder how many of them could squeeze into a 1 meter high space and then endure a 20-minute “roller coaster”? The average roller coaster lasts under 5 minutes now, to maximize profits: More Gs and less Time. Then there are the babies and old people, not always happy fliers even on today’s pokey planes… I guess we can forget about Flight Attendants providing any sort of comfort on such a short but vigorous flight. Will any part of that be in near zero G? Future announcement “You are now free to throw up around the cabin.”
    OK, I don’t mean to be churlish. It’ll be great to make it to anywhere on Earth in under an hour, though the airport to final destination time then will become an even more irritating factor, and so will the early arrival for security and baggage check then too (If Musk can cure that he’ll really win the innovation prize). A 20-minute flight surrounded by 3 hours of commute and prep time. I dunno…

  48. I think people are still missing what starship makes possible.

    Its a cargo ship. Want to do some experiments in space…well there ya go. Need to work on your massive 5 billion dollar space telescope…there ya go. Launch your own little lab to do extended work on something for a few months then bring it home…..THERE YA GO.

    Add to this a booster capable of lifting over 2mil pounds….

    To add the cargo version of starship alone could life up a BA2100 easily.

    Nuclear spaceships anybody?

  49. I think part of it is they want to be able to cheaply and quickly build and operate the ships. Titanium would complicate that BUT I do know the Titanium grid fins are definately going to be massive on the super heavy booster so who knows where else they may use it.

  50. Fuel tanks are quite useful as fuel tanks. They can be used as a fuel depot to store fuel in orbit. On the surface of Mars, they can act as storage for ISRU fuel production.

  51. If the SS engines are recovered but leaving the tanks in orbit, the best use of the tanks is not a habitat, but as fuel tanks. Strap a few together and you have a orbiting fuel depot. Than the launch cadence of tankers is independent of the payload launch.

  52. I’m not sure a period of zero-G is what you want directly after your $2000 lunch.

    You might not get to keep what you’ve paid for.

  53. And you are only choosing the Mayflower with hindsite.

    At the time you are just as likely to end up at Roanoke, or Panama Caledonia, or other lost colonies

  54. I wonder how much Titanium could be included in the super structure to get the weight down further? Currently the cost is prohibitive (carbon fibre levels) but while the Metalysis’ FFC process is turning the corner for commercialisation (not without running out of seed capital), the price could come down to the circa stainless prices.

    I’m an obvious fan of Titanium, and it’s historically been difficult to fabricate with, but certain alloy grades this is made easier. It also paramagnetic which may offer a level of protection.

    Anyway, my first post on NBF and I’m in awe of your collective intelligence, so go easy on me :-). I’m curious to see what others think.

  55. Airlines have a long history of terrible economics.
    Airline manufacturers (Boeing and Airbus) have done rather well.

  56. My guess is that they need serious protection from asteroids and space debris and even radiation. There is serious weight devoted to this on the ISS and this weight is incompatible with a flight worthy tank for the Space Shuttle.

  57. I can do one better than that… just weld the flooring and room walls into the interior of the fuel tank… and drill holes through themfor the fuel to leak through the flooring….then when you get to mars and use your entire fuel tank… you just vent it and refill will air and then you open the human hatch to the fuel tank… presto… instant converting of empty fuel tank to living space complete with rooms welded into the wall of the interior of the fuel tank….

  58. Maybe they should build a Human door hatch onto the fuel tanks So that when they land on moon or mars and use all the fuel… then they can just open the hatch door to the tank and use it as a living space…..On could envision an inflatable floor plan that you insert into the empty fuel tank and expand to get another large living area …

  59. You might do that, but I don’t spend a coupe of grand flying across the planet to stay for lunch. I generally stick around for a couple of weeks.

  60. “Because it will be a 20-minute flight on a fully reusable then the ticket cost could be $500-1000 per person. It will feel like a roller coaster but you will exit on another continent.”

    That alone would put Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic out of business.
    Imagine the choice,

    Up and down, same city. Trip duration approx. 10 minutes
    All for $200,000 per person


    Up 20 minutes new continent, have lunch and then Up 20 minutes
    Return home for $1000 to $2000 round trip.

  61. How malleable are those metal sheets I wonder? If the frame is a solid sheet with a single weld, could they be split combined in orbit for a much larger diameter cylinder?

  62. Thanks for sharing. Fair enough. I guess a big part of this is their prototyping style of development. Instead of spending billions on PowerPoint and engineering studies, they cut steel, build, fly and evolve.

  63. If you look at NASASpaceFlight Forums where they have several local residents taking daily photos of what the shipyard crew has been doing, the crew is often seen using a portable x-ray machine to check the welds and mark spots where voids were detected so the welds can be re-done.

    The next iterations to be built (mk3 at Boca Chica TX and mk4 at Cocoa FL) will have less welds. Instead of building each ring section from a number of steel plates, the mk3/4 ring sections will be made from one long sheet of steel with one vertical weld seam. Should look less steampunk.

    They already stockpiled 23 of those single-vertical-weld rings at Cocoa for the next Starship build there. Those 23 rings (two of them already stacked) can be seen being stored on the grounds at the Cidco Road facility in this video:

  64. Flying international will be very profitable for the first 20-40 years while SpaceX has no competition. They will be the only anywhere in an hour company. SpaceX will have complete dominance. Elon is showing more engineering innovation than Ford and the more business aggression than Rockefeller.

  65. Is it just me, or do these SpaceX ships look more like NASA boilerplate rockets from the sixties than space worthy vehicles? I know the steel itself is strong, but with all those square cut welded panels, it looks like they will shake themselves apart under high g stress.

    His renders look sleek and smooth, with no welds in sight.

  66. They actually expended propellant to get rid of them, as I recall; The tank was dropped so late in the launch that they had to do a special burn to make sure the tank would hit the atmosphere over a safe location to burn up, since part of it might reach ground.

    NASA still had a sour taste in their mouths from Skylab, the idea of being forced to use scrap instead of bespoke hardware really grated on them.

  67. You’re thinking of that idea bounced around about the tanks as modules for space stations. A co-worker of mine (at a telecom) once worked for NASA, applying foam insulation to the shuttle tanks. He said the notion of tanks-as-space-stations was just a sales pitch, window-dressing for rationalizing the need for the program and was never thought a serious option.

  68. Indeed, if it costs less than 300k USD in metal to make a Starship, the tanks can be turned into very cheap empty space worthy modules once launched and emptied, if they are made to be independent and detachable from the thruster section.

    Their metal frame could then be modified and adapted in situ to any use the customer wants: for example, inhabitable modules for a bigger spaceship or space station.

    We could end up with pretty large structures built that way.

  69. by far, the biggest cost of Starship or SuperHeavy is in the engines. Therefore, if the objective someday is to use the tanks as materials for a space or lunar base, I suppose it would be possible to remove the engines and ship them back to Earth to be installed in new rockets.

    Excluding the engines, I suppose a Starship or a Superheavy is simpler than an A380, that is, cheaper to produce.

  70. The Starship can launch about 250 tons of SS into orbit at a go… if 100 tons of it is in the form of tankage. If they can return the engines without the rest of the Starship, (Maybe as return cargo on one.) they could ship SS into orbit pretty cheaply just by making it into tanks.

    Expect a lot of things in orbit to be designed around Starship fuel tanks, in the manner that Shuttle external tanks should have been used, but never were.

  71. The obvious parellel in history would be getting on the mayflower and sailing across the ocean… it’s dangerous and you might die in the processs…and then you get there and the crops fail the first year and everybody Is half starved…

  72. Yep. Steel is strong, flexible, relatively malleable, and easily welded, allowing all kinds of repairs/changes to happen in faraway locations.

    This is not a minor consideration, when the nearest spaceship workshop can be millions of miles away.

    I expect a full sector of the space economy dedicated to spaceship reparation and modifications to develop, and the role of spaceship mechanic to gain much more relevance.

    The steel they picked is also superior to carbon fiber and ceramics on a wider range of thermal profiles. Let’s remember these ships are made to go deep into the Solar System, where higher and much lower temperatures will be a fact.

    And all thanks to picking the right material for building them.

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