SpaceX Will Push to Speed Up Starship Progress

Elon Musk now places the top priority for SpaceX as accelerating the progress of the Starship.

25 thoughts on “SpaceX Will Push to Speed Up Starship Progress”

  1. And to be clear, “all this mess” is primarily a result of the way governments reacted to the virus, not the virus itself. Sweden pursued something close to a “just let it take it’s course” approach to the virus, and barely had a third more deaths per capita than the US without largely shutting its economy down.

    We could probably have effectively contained the virus while leaving most of the country under just “wash your hands and wear masks” rules. Though we could have done a better job of protecting nursing homes, by which I mean, not forcing them to take people who were contagious; THAT was somewhere between imbecilic and murderous.

    I wonder if the initial reaction of governments was driven by a suspicion this virus was an escaped biowarfare agent, and then a moral panic just took over?

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  2. Yep, they don’t want to lose any customer hardware (specially NASA’s or other big moneyed ones) on a rocket under validation.

    While they can to afford to lose some of their own. But not that much.

    So probably they will use it for their own launches right after the first full orbital SS/SH launch, reusability working or not.

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  3. Concerning the state of the world, I think the COVID-19 scare will be over in a matter of a few months, when the disease runs its course through the non-immune populations of the world.

    After that, I think we will see a precipitous fall in contagions and deaths, as the virus seems to 1) be way more easy to pass and catch than most expected, 2) many are asymptomatic yet contagious, 3) it’s less lethal statistically speaking than most believe and 4) people seem to gain long term immunity to it after infection, resulting in a quicker ramp up to herd immunity than most believed.

    Even if we don’t gain long term immunity to it, previous exposure to a virus strain gives you partial immunity to its mutated relatives and much milder infections. This virus will be another cold in a couple of years and nobody will bat an eye about it anymore.

    Still, lots of losses of human lives to regret until then (a matter of statistics, 0.14-0.20% of IFR is still a lot of people), but that tragedy was almost unavoidable with this kind of airborne, easily transmissible disease.

    What is more concerning, is the political and economical fallout of all this mess.

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  4. I also doubt that they’ll accept second-party commercial payloads on Starship for a while. But Starlinks are cheap enough that, as soon as they get ascent even semi-reliable, they’re the test mass of choice. From there, you get 216 more Starlinks with every EDL test.

    I think they’ll continue to do Starship-only suborbital tests for the period where Raptor production is constrained, because you get good data on both the skydiver guidance as well as the swoop-n-slam maneuver at landing. But a downrange suborbital launch doesn’t get you a huge amount of data, because it’s just too slow. If Raptor production rises slower than expected, downrange is better than nothing, but it’s a more efficient test program to cut over to getting SuperHeavy up and running–and reusable–than it is to continue doing Starship EDL tests.

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  5. I concur and it is a very good insight. Full reusability of Starship is a long term goal, one that may or may not crystallize.

    But what they really, really need is a launcher that can replace F9 second stage and make launch profits, and that functionality a pretty barebones Starship can do it, even if its reusability is exactly zero.

    Superheavy has more reusability requirements, because it has to replace F9 booster, which is at least 4-5 times reusable.

    The partial reusability of F9 imposes them some floor of minimum cost per pound to LEO that Starship/Superheavy has to beat.

    But that’s it. No real need for fancy returns to Earth nor 100% reusable Starships, not at first.

    They have time for refining and growing the reusability part, while already making a buck out of Starship+Superheavy.

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  6. See elsewhere on the thread for details, but I don’t think they’re going to start out with a reusable Starship. Probably a mildly reusable SuperHeavy, but an expendable Starship is much more cost-effective for delivering Starlinks than even a 10x reusable F9.

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  7. One more thing: SpaceX needs a wingless Starship right from the git-go, for two customers:

    1) The Artemis Human Landing System. The Lunar Starship will never come back from NRHO, so stripping off the canards, tails, header tanks, and heat shields dramatically reduces the dry mass, and therefore the number of tanker launches needed to support it. (I also think that they’ll wind up removing some ring segments from the tanks because they don’t need the full 1200t of prop, but that’s another story.)

    2) National Security Space Launch. It’s hard to overemphasize how much Starship sucks as a way of getting payloads direct to GTO, to say nothing of GEO. At 120t dry mass, it can barely get 10t of payload to GTO without refueling, and GEO is impossible. The NSSL guys are going to hate the idea of refueling, because they hate even the tiniest iota of extra risk. However, stripping 20t of EDL gear out puts almost 38t to GTO.

    They still can’t do GEO without refueling, however. I suspect that they’ll do yet another Dragon 2 modification, similar to DXL, to act as a tug for taking NSSL payloads to GEO. A DXL variant with a SuperDraco and 16t of MMH/NTO can put a 15t payload into GEO in less than 12 hours.

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  8. I don’t think Starship will start out as a reusable vehicle. SuperHeavy will, but Starship offers a considerable cost improvement for launching Starlinks over an F9.

    My best cost model shows that a 5x reusable F9 costs SpaceX about $21M/launch. We get sixty 260 kg Starlinks per launch, as one 4.6m dia. x 6.7m high stack. Payload is therefore 15.6t, so we have a specific cost of $1350/kg.

    We know from Musk that Raptors are going to be about $1M/engine. If we assume that six engines are 20% of an expendable Starship’s cost, it comes out to $30M. If we assume that SH’s 31 engines are 50% of its cost, and it gets 5x reusability, that’s $12.4M/launch. Total launch cost: $42.4M.

    Starship has a cylindrical payload section that’s 8m dia. x 8m high, so you can get three stacks of 72 Starlinks, 216 total, in it, for a payload of 56.2t. So, using our $42.4M launch cost, that’s a specific cost of $750/kg. It’s roughly half the cost of F9, even with an expendable Starship.

    This doesn’t mean that they won’t continue testing to make Starship reusable through EDL. However, I suspect that they’ll stop doing suborbital tests fairly quickly, and instead concentrate on orbital reentries after delivering Starlink payloads. Either way, a failed test is just a big smoking ruin, so why not get some payload delivered for each test?

    Note: Even if F9 gets to 10x reusability, it costs $17.5M, so its specific cost would be $1120/kg. Expendable Starship still beats it handily.

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  9. I’m not surprised that Musk looked around in June 2020 and decided that his plan to GTFO Earth needed to be accelerated.

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  10. There are two things that demonstrate you’re not learning: Not making mistakes, because it means you’re not going past what you already knew. And continuing to make the same mistakes, because it means you’re not learning from them.

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  11. Absolutely correct, there definitely needs to be more planning. There were a few Falcon explosions on the launchpad, and nobody wants that to happen with Starship, especially with passengers. Not to mention the financial losses.

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  12. Yeah, they did that with Falcon 9, and leveraged that knowledge to make Falcon Heavy.

    But they are now back at the drawing board with Starship/Superheavy.

    It’s a new experience of another level of complexity, and they gotta learn.

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  13. Not to mention while Starship is new – SpaceX itself is now a mature company – building and launching for 10 years now. As Elon Musk has said however, rocket design is easy – building the rocket factory is hard. So I don’t have any doubt that they will build their rocket successfully – building MANY of them may take more time than Musk would like.

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  14. I agree. I’m worried about re-use of metal that clearly flexes easily, and could lead to hidden fatigue. Composites remain stiff until they fail. But I really, really, really wish him success!

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  15. Here’s the plan – Test, Fail, Fix, Test …
    It’s gotten SpaceX where they are now, a decade ahead of all other space launchers. I don’t think Elon is going to change course.

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  16. Good.

    But they better be careful. Starship/SH is a whole different kind of beast compared with the now well known operational space of Falcon 9 and Heavy. One that needs to be discovered possibly with some additional planning and later, analyzed to gain some hindsight perspective. Yes, I’m arguing for slightly more planning.

    Let’s remember that such a thing as a 100% reusable launcher with such a payload has never existed, and a rocket frame made in the way they are doing it and with the rocket engines they are using has never been attempted before either, and therefore, their daring in-house development approaches may face obstacles more difficult than anything they (or anyone) knew or expected.

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  17. I suspect that Spacex employees are hasted and sleep – deprived. Start slow,
    you ‘ ll be able to go faster later.

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  18. I see: A bad quick disconnect resulted in a big gush of fuel coming out. I still think they need to rid the area of ignition sources, though.

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