SpaceX Wants Unmanned Starship on the Moon in 2022 and Manned in 2024

SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell described the SpaceX moon timeline at the IAC (International Astronautical Congress) 2019.

First Starship earth orbital flight within 1 year
Land on moon before 2022. They want to stage cargo with an unmanned mission.
Trip around the moon (crewed) in the 2023 timeframe. This with the Japanese billionaire.
Moon landing by 2024

Those are aspirational targets.

Starship is the vehicle of dreams. It will go to orbit, moon and Mars.

Gwynn did emphasize that the current most important SpaceX job is the crew Dragon for NASA.

SOURCES- IAC, Interview Gwynn Shotwell
Written By Brian Wang

45 thoughts on “SpaceX Wants Unmanned Starship on the Moon in 2022 and Manned in 2024”

  1. Makes me want to cry. Why could we have not done this 50 years ago when I was 1 year old and would have been young enough to get off this ball of mud? Imagine where SpaceX will be in 20-30 years and the opportunities available on this timeline?

    In the meantime my son (1 year old) and coming twins will be trained in welding, using the game Kerbal Space Program for physics, computer programming, CAD and 3D printing, everything I can think of to get them ready to go to space if they want to. I will take them to see the Falcon Heavy launches in Florida or Texas to spark that dream in them the way seeing the Space Shuttle launches sparked it in me. I truly believe space is the future of the human race and our economic development as a species. They may choose not to go, but they will still benefit from this type of training so why not?

    Chance favors the prepared. I always admired tiger moms, and want to take it to another level. New, ambitious and very proud dad. 🙂

  2. Hope Crew Dragon is ready before Starship – because otherwise it will be embarrassing for SpaceX if Starship is flying to the Moon while NASA is still waiting for Crew Dragon.

  3. They’re currently working on an approach where the actual silicon is in the form of little chiplets, individual functional subsystems, which are then assembled into a functional whole at something approaching chip density.

    This means that the minimum wafer size by this approach can be really tiny. It also permits new approaches to creating the wafers, instead of the current process of drawing a big single crystal from melt.

    IMO, local manufacture of power semiconductors is more likely to be useful, than local manufacture of logic chips. Perhaps we could see a rebirth of vacuum tube technology in space. I recall reading about an integrated vacuum tube technology that could be made by chip manufacture tech, but didn’t rely on perfect crystals. Conveniently, it’s a LOT more radiation resistant than normal semiconductors.

  4. Technically, the equipment doesn’t need to be much larger than a wafer on the inside. The outside may have to be quite a bit larger to fit all the needed support equipment. But at least the vacuum is free in space (or nearly free on Mars).

    Wafer diameters can be as small as 25 mm (1 inch). 1 to 4 inch wafers are commonly used in university fabs, which AFAIK fit in about a room or two of the university lab (typically in the semiconductors department of the materials engineering faculty). Some parts are table-top.

    We had a semiconducting polymers lab lesson back in my uni, and we did spin-coating on a 1 or 2 inch wafer. As I recall, we didn’t even use a vacuum chamber (though you would for production). It was just a small spin table and a pipette.

    As Brett said, the issue is throughput. But near-term space operations aren’t likely to need very great numbers of chips.

    I think the toughest part might be making the wafers, but they can be treated as vitamins. They don’t weigh much (though one may as well send the fully manufactured chips).

  5. Inkjets can work in 3D, though you need a careful audit of every subsystem to ensure that gravity hasn’t been assumed in some part of the design.

  6. I knew electron beam writing can do one-off stuff but don’t they still need the big vacuum chambers to do all the various layers, spin coating etc?

  7. NASA’s never going to be shut down as long as we have some kind of presence in space. SpaceX will probably force them to realign their goals which is a good thing. That way NASA might actually focus on something useful instead of constructing billion dollar rovers that are less capable than even a $1,000 ATV on earth or a 10 billion dollar telescope while with starship we could build several bigger and better telescopes at a fraction of the cost.

    I agree their goals aren’t real well aligned right now with NASA focused 100% on the moon and Elon focused on Mars. But as Starship starts to take shape, Elon will gain more influence and leverage. I think he should use that influence to start getting NASA invested in Mars and the earlier that happens the better. There are a ton of problems involved with a mars mission that need to be solved besides just building a proper rocket. SpaceX hasn’t even started working on those other problems yet. The sooner he can partner with NASA to work on those other problems, the more likely it is he is going to accomplish his goals in the timeframe he wants. Sure he can go it alone and maybe he’ll be able to get to Mars all by himself. However Musk stated he wants a permanent human presence and to colonize Mars; I don’t think those goals are achievable without partnering with NASA.

  8. This seems to get to the point directly:
    “But if you have vast raw resources and no ability to build a factory larger than an 8m diameter cylinder, then it could be well worth running the 28% yield for a while.”
    The alternative is to launch the product, which will weigh more than the factory to produce it pretty soon, for many simple products. The value of getting started and learning how is the important thing. Once exponential growth starts, it is just a matter of time!

  9. Agreed that filament extrusion is the easiest 3D printing tech for space applications. Still need that special equipment though to hit the needed tolerances, even if it’s relatively simple. And still need to make sure the composition is consistent enough.

    Resin is probably the next easiest, or may even be easier, but it’s more messy to handle, and needs gravity or equivalent to print. Inks should be similar. I wonder if inkjets could work in zero gee? A quick google search suggests that they could, so maybe something like PolyJet could be made space-capable.

    Powders are the most complex, though recent printers are starting to shift to cheaper MIM powders, which I think have less stringent requirements.

  10. After more Bigelows are attached to the ISS, it may eventually become some sort of museum. Or not. I was supporting tourism in a highly inclined orbit, as it has better views over time. Would hate to see things started in wrong orbit!

  11. I was actually working for a plastic extrusion company at the time retail 3d printers were just entering the market. Regrettably I failed to persuade them that manufacturing a batch of filament for one of the developers would be a good foot in the door. If they’d gone for it they might still be in business…

    3d printer filament is about the easiest imaginable extruded product. A round profile with relatively easy tolerances in a single material? Easy peasy. Not like some of the window seal profiles I designed tooling for, where we had two or three extruders feeding different materials in to produce a complex profile, including flocking added to specific surfaces. Making something like that in a totally automated system would be a nightmare, it takes continual human intervention to keep the line running in tolerance.

    I used to design and build (It’s a great discipline for an engineer, having to go out into the shop and actually make the tools you’re designing.) the tooling for extrusions like these:

  12. Actually, you probably could reduce the size of a chip factory to that kind of scale, using technologies like electron beam direct writing. The problem there is the thruput, not the capacity to make the chips. The big fab facilities use processes optimized for mass production.

  13. I’ll add to Doctorpat’s reply that specifically for 3D printing, there are some additional restrictions on feedstock that may be difficult to achieve without specialized equipment. Dimensional tolerances, roughness, thermal properties, composition, etc. The special equipment may not be too big in some cases, but you’d still need to bring it along.

    The other thing is most 3D printing processes would be difficult to impossible to do in zero gee. Powder-based processes like laser sintering fall in that category. So you’d either need some minimum-size planetary body to provide gravity (the Moon?), some minimum amount of acceleration (costs fuel, 3D printing takes a lot of time, ion thrusters may be too weak), or would have to place the printer in a rotating environment (doable, but adds complexity).

  14. The orbit itself, yes. But ISS is too expensive to operate on a tourist basis alone, nor is it getting any younger.

    Meanwhile, Bigelow Aerospace is waiting mostly for transportation to fall into place…

  15. If I’m NASA, I know that, for decades I’ve been running a pork distribution system with a space program tacked on as a justification, and I’m worried that if Elon proves he can do the space part cheaper without the pork, I’ll just be shut down.

    NASA isn’t pursuing the SLS because it’s obviously the most cost effective way to accomplish its space goals. and will leap at a better alternative. It’s pursuing it to launder federal funds into certain Congressmen’s districts, and is permitted to pursue space as long as it gets job 1 done.

    Yes, Elon needs some help from NASA to accomplish his goals, and getting the Starship working will provide him some leverage, but his goals and the goals of what NASA has been transformed into aren’t nearly as well aligned as you imagine.

  16. ISRU is great and we’re going to have to learn how to build stuff and live on Mars and use the resources available there. However, the more stuff we can import from Earth the faster we can bootstrap and start to colonize and start building useful industries on Mars. Even as we start to see industry being built up on Mars, I see imports from Earth only going one way, up.

  17. I don’t think SpaceX and NASA are as much enemies as you’re making them out to be. SpaceX is going to need NASA as much as NASA will need SpaceX in the future. If SpaceX wants to accomplish its goals of going to Mars and the moon by the mid 2020’s and establishing a permanent human presence there, they’re going to need outside help.
    I don’t think Elon is going to be able to avoid the politics involved in all of this. If Starship turns out to be as successful as a lot of people think it will be, he’s going to be in a position where he can demand certain resources from NASA and other agencies to accomplish his goals even faster.
    If I’m Elon and my goal is to colonize Mars, I’d be demanding that NASA set up a Mars program in support of my goals, and I see no reason why that program shouldn’t be as big as the Apollo program. You really think NASA is going to let itself be completely left out of human missions to Mars? It would be a complete embarassment to NASA if that happened. If we have a human presence on both the moon and Mars, there’s no reason at all why NASA’s budget shouldn’t be at least doubled permanently. If I’m Elon, I’m making sure NASA knows it and I’m making sure Congress and the President knows it too.

  18. Polyethylene, in particular, is almost absurdly easy to make out of CO2 and H2O.

    Wellll…. there is cheap easy low density polyethylene (such as used to make a million milk bottles per hour) and then there is ultra high molecular weight oriented polyethylene (such as used to make bullet proof cloth). The milk bottle stuff is easy to make.

    Being more general, there are a lot of things where yes we do use a million tonnes of precision made machinery to churn it out, but often this is because we want to minimise the material costs, energy costs, waste, all to get the price down another 1c per kg.

    If we had to, we could make the same stuff with 1 tonne of reactor vessel. But our yield would be 28% instead of 99.8% and it would take 5 times the energy.

    But if you have vast raw resources and no ability to build a factory larger than an 8m diameter cylinder, then it could be well worth running the 28% yield for a while.

    On the other hand, if you are trying to make 5nm 128 core computer chips… you need the vast factory.

  19. The refueling has already been stated by Musk to be taking place in a highly elliptical Earth Orbit, not Low Earth Orbit.

  20. “Or the lil’ plastic pellets, metal powders, ceramic grit and other polymers that fuel 3D-printer machines.”

    Actually, polymers are a good candidate for automated manufacture in dedicated reactors. Polyethylene, in particular, is almost absurdly easy to make out of CO2 and H2O.

    On the Moon, very simple processing can net you fairly pure metal dust. And you already have the vacuum necessary for laser sintering.

    Not saying your general point isn’t valid, there are what replicator researchers call “vitamins”, that just aren’t worth trying to duplicate in early replicators. But structural materials are probably the easiest.

  21. Radical Moderate did an analysis and posted the result in a thorough comment at Teslarati comment on article
    Basically, LEO refuel then do a burn to get into a Highly Elliptical Earth Orbit. A similarly refueled tanker would follow along and while in HEEO do a refueling of the Starship. Tanker would return to Earth and Starship would proceed to the Moon with enough fuel to land there, take off and go to TEI, then aero-brake and land on Earth. As many as 15 launches required with all the refueling, depending on ISP. I believe this uses Starships without cargo as psuedo-tankers. He enumerates many assumptions.

  22. I look forward to the very first factory, after ISRU gets going, which will turn out one product only–the heaviest and most used one–and to seeing how much weight can be stripped from import from Earth. And then the next factory. And hopefully, right away, a lot of that material for use in 3D printers.

  23. How about distinguishing whether something is “easy” in principal, from whether the next copy is easy, as from an existing infrastructure. I *always* am thinking of the Physics easy, not the next one easy. If the Physics easy is *true*, then the investment to take advantage of that will perhaps be millions of times the next one cost, say a roll of duct tape, but the big investors will set up and scorch the old guys, just the way it goes. Of course, we are talking water and glass and simple metals at first, but the idea is the same. The end is clear, if we don’t off the whole thing first.

  24. Well, to nit-pick, the ISRU def would be the other way, stuff deliverable in/from Space, thus not launched from Earth. Which launch would thus be uneconomical. An advantage of Space stuff is the fact that we know how to do things on Earth, and are *merely* having to learn how to do the same in Space. Yet the payoff is as big as whole new industries relying on whole new inventions, just from the different, resource rich, place things are done. Not that new stuff won’t happen too. Overall, more like doing stuff here (colonial America) rather than importing from Mother England. The market will decide the details, but only AFTER we actually get started! Now, the minerals from planetary processes may be unique, but the rockets to launch them should be made ISRU, for example.
    “millions of tons of high cost, high-energy, high maintenance ‘tooling’ to do right.” The millions of tons and the high energy would seem to argue for doing it in Space at future larger scale, no? Just start with the working assumption that it is easier in Space, unless proven otherwise. Then the planetary bias will not have an established advantage. It is a process, not a rule. We will eventually marvel at Earth cranes and such. How did they do it!

  25. OK. “not stupidly launched from Earth” is umm… pretty prejudiced — at least to me — when in fact the better moniker might well be “Sourced from Earth ‘cuz not derivable here”.  

    There is a lot of high value stuff that is über-finicky in manufacturing, that requires … without even modest aggrandizement … millions of tons of high cost, high-energy, high maintenance ‘tooling’ to do right.  

    LOW tech things like roll-stock sheet metals. Or the lil’ plastic pellets, metal powders, ceramic grit and other polymers that fuel 3D-printer machines. Solder, rosin, magnet wire, switches, lights, sewing machine supplies … cloth, threads, zippers, Velcro. Cobalt samarium magnets, LEDs, all sorts of electronics low-tech stuff. Duct tape. Pens. Paper. Plastic film.

    HIGH tech … like “3 D printer machines”, along with laser sintering, annealing ovens, all that. Hard to make this stuff in space from regolith.  Precise measuring apparatus.  

    MEDIUM tech … like endless spools of magnet wire, switches, piles of semiconductors, IC chips, microcontrollers. Hard to make stuff that is not likely to be ‘in bulk’ on an asteroid, moon or planet. Pharmaceuticals. Catalysts. Zeolites. Weathering products … clays, minerals. Stuff taking millions-of-years of hydrology to transform.

    Just Saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

  26. I want to see an efficient trajectory and the refueling plan that will allow the starship return from the moon to earth. Pretty sure that it will need more refueling above LEO.

  27. I rebelliously define it as “In Space Resource Use”, as *it* will have often been moved to Space, not used at the “site”. Now, if the site is broadly Space, then the other acc works too. Really means “not stupidly launched from Earth”.

  28. Just as a parenthetical idea, free enterprise — to work efficiently — needs multiple suppliers of “stuff”.  

    If the players are a suspiciously underpriced SpaceX and the makers of SLS in positions № 2 and № 1 (revenue!) or № 1 and № 2 (working tech!) … that’s good. Likewise, if the also-ran providers actually come up with competition, (Blue Meanie … Horizons … post-Atlas … whatever), well that’s good too. More pressure on № 2 to either up their game or at least become more price-competitive.  

    Just Saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

  29. For the acronym challenged … ISRU = In Situ Resource Utilization. 

    This is defined as taking the materials gathered from planets, or moons, or asteroids, comets, and so on, then using chemical, electrical, magnetic, density methods to separate them into ‘piles’, processing the piles into more piles of derivative stuff, then aggregating a subset of THOSE piles along (at least at first) with piles of stuff of Earth, to make all nature of useful tools, structures, utility containers, habitats. 

    Just recalling… GoatGuy ✓

  30. I didn’t say anything about Mars, you’ll notice. I said that SpaceX was likely to beat NASA to the Moon, and in an embarassing way, spending less on their whole program than NASA is going to spend on a single launch.

    Now, I’m all for lunar ISRU. I suspect the quickest approach to that is going to end up involve using the Starship to transport the initial equipment.

  31. Good. The Space industry needs a good kick in the rear, and such shocking development could serve to wake up everyone to the fact that things have changed, and that the statu quo can’t be maintained anymore.

    Yes, some will feel their little turfs and special interests threatened and try to fight it, but as long as SpaceX keeps lawful and smart, with the public engaged and interested, there is not much spiteful politicians can do to stop it without looking exactly like that.

  32. Crew Dragon is a compromise with the statu quo. Something NASA will want to use and pay for it.

    As long as it is profitable for them, it makes sense to keep it focused and on schedule.

    Starship has no buyers right now but SpaceX themselves and certain Japanese billionaire. It’s their wild card, the one that can be designed exactly as they want it.

    It can be successful and bring payloads and people in the promised schedule, or it may be not as successful and be delayed.

    … oh and by the way we are still working on crew dragon, very important to us” 🙂

  34. NASA top management is not interested in SLS as a Mars project as much as he is interested in lunar ISRU.

  35. The highly inclined orbit of ISS, changed to bring in the Russians, turns out to make it a superior tourist orbit.

  36. If it starts to be obvious that SpaceX is going to curb stomp NASA in the race back to the Moon, it may seriously impact relations between NASA management and SpaceX. A lot depends on whether NASA management are fully invested in the SLS, or pursuing it only because Congress demands it.

    I suspect it’s the former, unfortunately.

  37. BFR is the company maker, the next level for SpaceX after F9. Dragon is a money job and good relationship management, also a docking technology development for all future BFR refuelling needs. There is no future for ISS, hence no future for all its services.

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