Expendable SpaceX Starship Could More Than Double Saturn V Payload

SpaceX’s Starbase factory is already building multiple intentionally-expendable Starships. Ship 26 and Ship 27 feature no thermal protection, have no heat shield tiles, and will not be fitted with flaps, making them impossible to recover or reuse. These Starships will be able to test technologies like orbital refilling and cryogenic fluid management. A SpaceX Starship without all of the systems like spare fuel and landing gear needed for reusability would be able to carry 250 tons into orbit. This would be more than double the 118 tons into orbit from the Saturn V.

A fully optimized reusable SpaceX Super Heavy Starship could take 150 tons into orbit. This would still fully reuse all of the parts.

It took almost 60 Space Shuttle launches to bring up the pieces of the 420-ton International Space Station. Two single-use SpaceX Super Heavy Starships could be left in Space and bring more mass for a larger 500-ton Space Station. It would be best to use at least three SpaceX Super Heavy Starship to orbit. This would enable a central docking component and then two rotating Starship modules. The SpaceX Starships could be just left in orbit but attached with walkways to form an almost 1230-ton space station. Each of the Starships would have about 160 tons of dry mass and 250-ton payload.

26 thoughts on “Expendable SpaceX Starship Could More Than Double Saturn V Payload”

  1. Can we have a countdown in days to launch? A big day for the human race, also ,cover the second stage stainless steel H2 powered vehicle from Stoke Space,truly revolutionary.

  2. This is how we build a cycler, need lots of material for shielding and habitation volume. Keep a few as fuel and actual propulsion, the rest as living and recreation space, water tanks, and for the chicken coops and tilapia tanks.

  3. Storage depot+booster? No, just make a super depot welding starship and booster,
    without starship’s engines, just the booster’s 33, single stage to orbit. Will need some tank
    reconfiguration, of course.

    • Bad idea. SSTO with chemical propulsion sucks in terms of payload. Basically doesn’t have any. Two stages is pretty much optimal to get to orbit, given exhaust velocities available with chemical rocketry, and earth’s gravity.

      Mars? SSTO would be the clear winner. Not on Earth, it’s maybe barely possible to pull off.

      • In fact my concept has no payload at all. You end up just with an enormous empty
        fuel depot. Thinking on it some more, it is effectively a bad idea, but only because you
        lose 33 engines instead of 6. It could still be viable if it could be possible to unbolt
        and recover the engines in LEO, at low cost.

        • You understand that, if 2 stages can get you significant payload to orbit, it can also get a much bigger 2nd stage to orbit without payload?

          SSTO only makes sense if your exhaust velocity is at least comparable or better than the delta V you need. That the 1st stage is going to be reusable just cements the superiority.

  4. I like the option of a larger payload for the expendable Starships. Strapping two or three Boosters together would be nice.

  5. 2 Starships tethered is thinking so small. A good testbed, maybe, but not much more than that. 20-50 Starships docked together into a ring, now we’re talking. Take a robotic angle grinder with some kind of electrostatic dust collection, chamfer off the nose and engines. Another robot to seam-weld each section together. Ferry the engines back down to Earth for reuse.

    Mind you, there would be much less debris risk if you could max out the payload bay with a single Bigelow-style inflatable module per trip and build it out of those instead.

    • Two Starships tethered together is how you’d make the trip to Mars, so that the passengers would arrive already acclimated to Martian gravity.

      It’s also the quickest way to set up a real world test of the long term effects of low gravity, something we absolutely need to do before committing to colonizing Mars.

      • I don´t think you need much to acclimatize much to Martian gravity, being only 40% of Earth’s. The real problem would be returning to Earth’s 1G.

        That said, I am not an enthusiast of travelling to Mars by chemical rockets, in 6-9 months.

        You either:
        1 – have a small team in the 1000m³ of the ship for 9 months
        2 – have a bigger ship, MUCH BIGGER, for 100 people
        3 – find a way to make everyone hibernate
        4 – go there much faster, in 30 days or less. (still not 100 people in 1000m³)

        • Yeah, I don’t *think* so, either, but before we land people on Mars who are expected to stay there, we should KNOW, not “think”.

          And it’s a perfect chance to do long duration testing of all the Starship systems where rescue is convenient, so why not? Work out all the bugs for the life support and accommodations.

          Anybody who’s not willing to spend six months in a Starship just to get to Mars isn’t colonist material to begin with.

        • I don’t believe we will see 100 people in a single Starship to Mars very soon. My hunch is they will be around 10-15 tops, sans recycling and full supplies for all the trip and stay. Slightly more people if they have supplies ensured and waiting on Mars.

          It can theoretically be grown to 100 passengers, with drastic life support improvements because you can’t ship enough oxygen and everything without it.

          The problem here is the risk and comfort of the passengers. And the time for developing and validating Starship for 100 passengers probably matches that of making a bigger v2 Starship.

          Unsure about the last part though. Developing Starship surely taxed them, and they probably want to reap some benefits and have a validated, jack-of-all-trades design that gets the job done ASAP. Musk is also getting old, after all.

          • 100 people on something the size of Starship, for a low energy transfer orbit to Mars, does seem somewhat excessive. Looking it up, that’s 11 cubic meters per person, though, so not *totally* insane.

            I think a more reasonable target might be half that, with individual sleeping cubicles modeled after Japanese pod hotel rooms, stacked compactly surrounded by cargo, and a third of the crew asleep at any given time. That would actually work out to a lot of available space per awake passenger. Assuming half the volume (1,100 cubic meters!) was devoted to cargo and equipment, you’d have 450 cubic meters of walking around space, (After accounting for individual bunks.) and with 1/3 of the passengers asleep at any time, an awake passenger would have about 13 cubic meters of space.

            Not exactly a luxury hotel, but doable for 6 months.

  6. My opinion of connecting a bunch of starship to make a big space station. dumb.
    It was a stupid idea that people had decades ago with the space shuttles external fuel tank, and it’s still a dumb idea. You don’t need space stations connected at all. We SHOULD have dozens of space stations a decade from now, all doing different R&D.
    SpaceXvision is a YouTube channel that is great, it shows a booster with no starship, but replaced by a 12 meter wide space station, THAT is the proper was of launching a huge space station. No reason to cram it into a starship fairing.

    • The reason for a large station is a human one. For long term habitation, it’s easier as the number of people to interact with face-to-face gets larger larger, up to a point of diminishing returns. Manufacturing techniques can be tested robotically using something like Space Forge’s reusable satellite, there’s no need for humans in the loop. The only real use of a space station going forward is the study of human health in the space environment, so it might as well be large.

      If they’re cheap enough (like a pair of starships), set up a load of them. Then you’ve got a zero-g group, a Mars-g group, a Moon-g group, and an Earth-g group for control (to separate gravity-like effects from general space environment radiological effects) all without leaving LEO.

      • Well, if you’re not leaving LEO, then the general space radiological effects might be quite muted. Of course, it’s still a good idea to have a control group.

  7. What is even better is how components don’t have to e ultra optimized to save as much weight as possible.

    A fully reusable system allows for extra fuel, food, water, spare parts, more off the shelf rugged subsystems.

    Even deep space probes can allow for more fuel and more simple and cheaper builds.

  8. Indeed, a Starship optimized with the intention of being parts of a space station would provide even more space. Additionally, the tankage could be fitted out with things like airlocks and ports already in place, just covered up on the fuel facing side with steel plates removable with a cutting torch. Just a few one way launches and you’d have a space station that would utterly dwarf the ISS.

    This is one of the advantages of making the Starship out of welded steel.

    • Also imagine one optimized as a space station being slightly enlarged because there is no need for heat tiles, so many engines and fuel, etc

    • This. Not Starships carrying (very expensive and pointless) Bigelow modules, but Starships built to be deployed as modules with the crew area ready for use but the (stretch) propellant tanks pre-built to be expansion livable space. Concept discussed before Skylab. One would have more living volume than the ISS. Engines could be unbolted and returned.

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