As Starship prepares for its maiden orbital flight, the conversation has turned to another aspect of what is expected to be the largest spacecraft ever created by humans. This is the possibility of increasing the payload of the system up to 250 tons. The counterpoint, that the ship ceases to be reusable.
A possibility that has been chewed since 2021. Since SpaceX began its journey in space exploration, the reuse of its rockets and spacecraft has been something of a “house brand.” Their flagship project, Starship, is no exception, and was designed with this goal in mind. However, already in 2021, the possibility of a disposable version of this colossus was on the mind of the CEO of the company, Elon Musk.
The idea is to achieve a payload of 250 tons to Earth orbit, sacrificing the reusability of one or several elements of the rocket configuration. This would be a significant increase.
The company has updated the characteristics of the vehicle on its website (not its “use guide”) and talks about a Starship payload of between 100 and (more than) 250 tons, or 150 tons to Earth orbit with reusable configuration. and 250 tons in expendable configuration.
More doubts than certainties. Apart from this there is little information that has transpired in this regard. Musk has been cryptic in answering questions about what a disposable Starship means: “A disposable upper stage might or might not fly, but it’s an option,” explained on Twitter. It answered the questions raised by some users who had just noticed the new information available on the SpaceX website.
Perhaps we will have to wait for the first test flight of the ship before knowing the real capabilities of Starship and its first stage, Super Heavy. The rocket and ship will have to prove their reusability before we can talk about a disposable configuration. As Eric Ralph, a journalist specializing in the future of SpaceX, points out, “until its reusability is demonstrated, every upper stage of Starship will be functionally disposable, whether Elon Musk wants it or not.”
Expendable upper stage may or may not fly, but it is an option
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 31, 2023
The example of the Falcons. The prospect of expanding the capabilities of reusable launch vehicles by making them disposable is not new to SpaceX. Both the Falcon and Falcon Heavy can, in principle, increase their carrying capacity by becoming expendable.
Different possible configurations. In his tweet, Musk spoke of the first stage, Super Heavy, however, it is Starship itself that could gain the most in a disposable version, so that is where it has focused. part of the discussion.
The reason is that a disposable version of this ship could do without heavier elements such as stabilizers and heat shield. But this means creating ships specifically designed for a single use.
A monster about to take off. Maybe we won’t take long to find out. Last week, the Starship configuration that SpaceX wants to put into orbit in the first test passed its Wet Dress Rehearsal, the pre-launch test that checks that all the mechanisms that lead to the countdown are working in order.
According to Musk’s latest statements, the first launch of Starship in its two-stage configuration and with it its first orbital flight could take place at the end of this February. We will have to wait and see how the test progresses and see if this first attempt is reusable or if it has the same luck as most of the previous tests.
Imagen | Jared Krahn, CC BY-SA 4.0
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