Elon Musk’s SpaceX is testing out a rocket system which is going to completely change the way we travel. The SpaceX “Starship and Superheavy” is a 2-stage reusable launch vehicle being developed by SpaceX to help transport people and cargo between places on earth at speeds that cannot be imagined. Once people used to believe traveling by air was not possible, but at the rate of SpaceX’s developments, we could be tourist traveling in/through space in less than 10 years.
However, “Earth to Earth” is merely an add-on to the launch vehicles capabilities, and used as a means to fund Elon Musk’s real ambitions: using the same launch vehicle to set-up a colony on Mars. This could be entirely possible, seeing how fast and successful tests have been on the “Starhopper” test vehicle.
Though the idea of humans setting up colonies on other planets seems like an idea straight out of Sci-Fi movies, the only thing that has been holding us back is a capable launch vehicle, and cost effectiveness. With SpaceX making Starship very powerful, and reusable along with through “Earth to Earth” transport as well, there is no doubt that Elon Musk’s company is capable of sending people in masses to set up interplanetary colonies.
The development of Starship began in 2012, when reports suggested that SpaceX has begun development on the upper stage raptor engines. Later in 2016, Elon Musk unveiled the design for the “ITS” (Interplanetary Transport System), which later evolved after many design and development changes into the Starship you see above. The launch vehicle once built will have capabilities far more substantial compared to the current Falcon-9 or Falcon Heavy.
Once fully tested, Starship is set to replace the Falcon rockets as the only SpaceX launch vehicle in use. This is due to the ingenious design of the Starship and Superheavy system, which allows the vehicle to be used multiple times, both to travel across planets and for “Earth to Earth.” SpaceX has a video depicting how Starship and Superheavy could be used as an alternative form of above-ground transport, moving more than a hundred people quickly across the planet, or planets.
The design depicted in the video represents Starship before the recent design changes, now with fins for stability and a stainless steel exterior.
The main reason why all of this will soon be possible is because of SpaceX’s “Raptor Engine.” The next-gen rocket engine has thrust capabilities up to 2MN (2 Million Newton) and is also filed by Methane and LOX (liquid oxygen). This makes it possible for the the rocket to be refueled on Mars, as the fuel could be easily produced from the Martian atmosphere and environment. This is vital, as it is nearly impossible to transport such large amounts of fuel between planets, that too enough to power such a rocket. The fuel would vaporize under the solar radiation from traveling in space.
The Starship and Superheavy will be utilizing a total of 37 raptor engines, with 6 being onboard the Starship spacecraft. Starship is expected to be able to carry around 100 people plus 100 tonnes of cargo to Mars, and probably much more for “Earth to Earth.”
Migrating to Mars
Standing around 40 stories tall, the Starship + Superheavy will allow people to migrate to Mars, with Elon Musk saying tickets costing around $200k. Of course it won’t be all fun and games, as the first occupants of the Red Planet will face many life-threatening challenges in order to set-up a self-sustaining colony. SpaceX will be able to achieve these exponentially cheap prices with R&D for the system being expected to be only around $10B, and building both the spacecraft and rocket booster 100% reusable.
The first flights of the Starship are expected to be around 2021, with crewed missions to Mars around 2024. Uncrewed missions to Mars are expected around 2022. Though Elon Musk has set unrealistic deadlines in the past, the rate of development with the rocket system right now is proving to be otherwise.
Cover Image Source: SpaceX