SpaceX Starship

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Steel rocket on a mount, next to a tower
Starship launch vehicle assembled and stacked at Starbase
Country of origin
  • United States
  • 120 m
  • 400 ft
  • 9 m
  • 30 ft
  • 5,000 t
  • 10,000,000 lb
Payload to low Earth orbit
  • 500 km
  • 310 mi
Orbital inclination98.9 °
  • 100 t
  • 220,000 lb
  • 1,000 m³
  • 35,000 ft³
Launch history
Launch sites
First stage – Super Heavy
  • 70 m
  • 230 ft
  • 9 m
  • 30 ft
Propellant mass
  • 3,400 t
  • 7,500,000 lb
Powered by
Maximum thrust
  • 72 MN
  • 16,000,000 lbf
Second stage – Starship
  • 50 m
  • 170 ft
  • 9 m
  • 30 ft
Propellant mass
  • 1,200 t
  • 2,650,000 lb
Powered by

Starship is a fully reusable and super heavy-lift launch vehicle that is currently being developed by SpaceX, an American aerospace manufacturer. It is the tallest and most powerful rocket ever built.[1] The rocket consists of the Super Heavy booster stage and the Starship spacecraft on top, and is mainly constructed out of stainless steel.

Both Starship's stages are fueled with liquid oxygen and methane, and are propelled by variants of Raptor engines. Both stages are designed for rapid reuse after a vertical landing. With a single launch, the expected payload to low Earth orbit is at least 100 t (220,000 lb). One of the spacecraft variants, Starship tanker, can be used to refuel the main spacecraft in orbit, leading to higher payload capacities for flights to the Moon and Mars. Once on Mars, resources there can be used to make propellant, sending Starships back to Earth.

SpaceX outlined such a rocket as early as 2005; its design and name were frequently changed. In July 2019, Starhopper, a prototype vehicle with extended fins, was able to hover. In May 2021, Starship SN15 flew to 10 km (6 mi) and landed after four failed attempts with earlier prototypes. As of June 2022, the first Starship rocket is planned to launch by the end of the year. The rocket's development is iterative and incremental with testing and manufacturing of prototypes. Critics have noted its potential to damage the natural and social environment around the launch sites.

SpaceX plans to construct launch sites at Starbase in Texas and Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and to build two offshore launch platforms. In the near-term, Starship may deploy satellites and space probes, serve commercial astronauts, and explore the Moon via the Artemis program. Further into the future, the rocket may travel between locations on Earth and aid SpaceX's ambition of colonizing Mars. Such level of operation is only possible with reduced launch cost and increased launch frequency.


In November 2005, in the United States, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk first referenced a rocket concept known as BFR, which matched some capabilities of the current Starship design. The rocket was to be equipped with a larger version of the Merlin engine known as Merlin 2. The rocket concept had a lifting capacity of 100 t (220,000 lb) to low Earth orbit and was unable to relaunch.[2] The announcement of this concept roughly coincided with the company's first and unsuccessful launch attempt in March 2006, carrying FalconSAT-2 on the small Falcon 1 rocket.[3]

In July 2010,[4] after the last and successful launch of Falcon 1 a year prior,[5] SpaceX presented rocket and Mars space tug concepts at an American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics conference. These rockets are called Falcon X, Falcon X Heavy, and Falcon XX. Falcon XX was envisioned to be as tall as the Saturn V, featured a single core with six Merlin 2 engines, and able to bring 140 t (310,000 lb) to low Earth orbit.[4] Around 2012,[6] the company mentioned the Mars Colonial Transporter concept in public, whose design was to be powered by methane-fueled Raptor engines. The rocket would be able to send 100 people or 100 t (220,000 lb) of cargo to Mars.[7]

White sleek rocket in flight
SpaceX illustration of the 2016 Interplanetary Transport System

On 26 September 2016, a day before the 67th International Astronautical Congress, the Raptor engine was fired for the first time.[8] At the event, Musk announced SpaceX was developing a new rocket, the Interplanetary Transport System, which would have both stages reused, a launch capacity of 300 t (660,000 lb) to low Earth orbit, and a low launch price. This concept presented the possibility of "tanker vehicles"; a spacecraft capable of carrying extra fuel and transferring it to another spacecraft in orbit. The booster stage was to be equipped with forty-two Raptor engines while the spacecraft would have been equipped with nine. The rocket's tanks were to be made from carbon composite, and would store liquid methane and liquid oxygen used by the Raptors.[9] The concept, especially the technological feats required to make such a system possible and the funds needed, garnered a large amount of skepticism.[10]

In September 2017, at the 68th Annual International Astronautical Congress, Musk announced the BFR (Big Falcon Rocket),[11] a revision to the Interplanetary Transport System's design. The rocket was still going to be reusable, but its launch capacity to low Earth orbit was reduced to 150 t (330,000 lb). The booster's engine count was reduced to thirty-one, and the rocket's body was smaller. Unlike its conceptual predecessor, the potential applications for the BFR were far more varied, such as sending satellites to orbit, traveling to the International Space Station, landing on the Moon, and traveling between spaceports on Earth. Nevertheless, its ultimate purpose was still to ferry crew to Mars.[12] In April 2018, the Mayor of Los Angeles confirmed plans for a BFR rocket production facility at the Port of Los Angeles,[13] but it was cancelled around May 2020.[14]

Booster and spacecraft separation in space
SpaceX illustration of the 2018 BFR rocket at stage separation

A year later in September 2018, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa announced the sponsored dearMoon project. With six to eight other artists, the crew would fly a free-return trajectory around the Moon on a BFR spacecraft, creating artworks throughout the mission. Musk commented the project gave considerable funding to the rocket's development. After Maezawa's announcement, Musk showed the spacecraft's new addition of flaps; two at the top and three at the bottom, which could be adjusted to control the spacecraft's descent. The bottom flaps could also be used as landing legs.[15] Two months later in November 2018, the rocket booster was first termed Super Heavy and the spacecraft was named Starship.[11]


Starship's development is iterative and incremental,[16] and is mostly funded by SpaceX.[17] Tests conducted on rocket prototypes range from proof pressure tests and static fires to full-flight tests with attempted recovery.[18]: 16–19  Due to the company's openness to space news media, these rocket tests have received significant coverage.[19]

Reception to Starship development among local communities has been mixed, especially from cities near the Starbase spaceport. Proponents of SpaceX's arrival said the company would provide money, education, and job opportunities to the country's poorest areas.[20] Local governments have stated the company boosted the local economy by hiring local residents and increasing investment.[21]

Opponents of the plan said the company encourages Brownsville's gentrification.[22] They also highlighted the spaceport's dishonest planning: Starbase had been originally planned to launch Falcon rockets, but the site was now exclusively used to test Starships. The environmental assessment had not being performed at the start of the development program,[23] and was only completed years later in June 2022.[24] Some of the failed tests have resulted in large explosions, which scattered debris around Boca Chica Beach at Cameron County, causing major disruption to nearby wildlife reserves. By closing nearby beaches and roads frequently, SpaceX has interfered with Boca Chica residents' daily lives.[23] Because of this, some residents have moved away or demanded financial reparations from the company.[21]

Low-altitude flights

Short steel rocket with its fins touching the ground
Starhopper while under construction, March 2019

The first prototype to fly using a Raptor engine was called Starhopper.[25] The vehicle had three non-retractable legs and was shorter than the final spacecraft design.[26] The craft performed two tethered hops in early April 2019 and three months later, it hopped without a tether to around 25 m (80 ft).[27] In August 2019, the vehicle hopped to 150 m (500 ft) and traveled to a landing pad nearby.[28] As of August 2021, the vehicle has been retired and repurposed; it is now a mounting point for communication, weather monitoring and tracking equipment, and becoming a water tank.[29]

In late September 2019, Musk presented more details about the lower-stage booster, the upper stage's method of controlling its descent, its heat shield, orbital refueling capacity, and potential destinations outside Mars.[30] The spacecraft design was once again changed; the number of aft flaps at the bottom was reduced from three to two. Musk also said Starship's material was changed from carbon composites to stainless steel, citing lower cost, higher melting point, strength at cryogenic temperatures, and ease of manufacturing.[31]

Since before the presentation, SpaceX was constructing the Starship Mk1 and Mk2 upper-stage prototypes, which were located at facility in Boca Chica, Texas, and the SpaceX facility in Cocoa, Florida, respectively.[30] Mk1 was destroyed November 2019 during a pressure stress test and Mk2 did not fly because the Florida facility was deconstructed throughout 2020.[32][33]

SpaceX began naming its new Starship upper-stage prototypes with the prefix "SN". No prototypes between SN1 and SN4 flew; SN1 and SN3 collapsed during pressure stress tests and SN4 exploded after its fifth engine firing.[29] During the interval, the company accelerated the construction of infrastructure at the spaceport.[34] The company also bought two drilling rigs for $3.5 million from Valaris plc each during Valaris's bankruptcy proceedings in January 2020. The drilling rigs are planned to be repurposed as offshore spaceports.[35]

In June 2020, SpaceX started construction of a launch pad for orbit-capable Starship rockets.[36] Starship SN5 was also built; the lack of flaps or nose cone gave it a cylindrical shape. The test vehicle consisted of one Raptor engine, propellant tanks, and a mass on top. On 5 August 2020, SN5 performed a 150 m (500 ft)-high flight, successfully landing on a nearby pad.[37] On 3 September 2020, the similar-looking Starship SN6 successfully repeated the hop.[38] A week later, SpaceX stress-tested a fuel tank, designated SN7.1, which was constructed from SAE 304L stainless steel rather than SAE 301 by earlier tanks.[29] In the same September, the company fired its Raptor Vacuum engine in full duration.[39]

High-altitude flights

Steel rocket on a mount
Starship SN9 on a mount with its flaps closed, January 2021

SN8 was the first complete Starship prototype and underwent four static fire tests between October and November 2020.[29] On 9 December 2020, SN8 flew, slowly turning off its three engines one by one, and reaching to an altitude of 12.5 km (7.8 mi). The craft then performed the belly-flop maneuver, dove back through the atmosphere, and attempted to land. However, an issue with fuel tank pressure caused the prototype to lose thrust and impact the pad.[40] Because SpaceX had violated its launch license and ignored warnings of worsen shock wave damage, the Federal Aviation Administration performed a two-month investigation of the incident.[41]

On 2 February 2021, Starship SN9 launched to 10 km (6.2 mi) and also crashed on landing.[42] Unlike SN8, the explosion is within the Federal Aviation Administration's safety bounds.[43] A month later, on 3 March 2021, after an initially aborted launch three hours earlier, Starship SN10 launched on the same flight path as its two predecessors. The vehicle then landed hard and crushed its landing legs, leaning to one side.[44] A fire can be spotted at the vehicle's base. Less than ten minutes later,[45] it exploded, probably due to a propellant tank rupture.[44]

Starship SN11, on 30 March 2021, flew into thick fog along the same flight path.[46] About twenty-five seconds after lift-off, fire could be spotted at an engine, though it does not impact the ascent.[47] During descent, the vehicle exploded, scattering debris up to 8 km (5 mi) away.[46] It was suspected that a methane leak damaged the vehicle's avionics, causing excess propellant in a Raptor's methane turbopump, leading to the vehicle's explosion.[47]

In March 2021, the company sent a public construction plan that had two sub-orbital launch pads, two orbital launch pads, two landing pads, two test stands, and a large propellant tank farm. The company also proposed developing the surrounding Boca Chica village into a company town named Starbase,[48] raising concerns about SpaceX's authority, power, and potential abuse for eviction.[49] In early April 2021, the orbital launch pad's fuel storage tanks began mounting.[36] A few weeks later, on 16 April 2021, NASA selected Starship HLS as the crewed lunar lander.[50] Blue Origin, a bidding competitor to SpaceX, disputed the decision and began a legal case in August 2021,[51] and it was later dismissed by the Court of Federal Claims three months later.[52]

Starship prototypes SN12, SN13, and SN14 were scrapped before completion, and Starship SN15 was selected to fly instead.[53] The prototype features general improvement on its avionics, structure, and engines, incorporating prior prototype's failures.[45] On 5 May 2021, SN15 launched, completed the same maneuvers as older prototypes, and landed softly[53] after six minutes. Even though SN15 has a fire at the bottom like SN10, it was extinguished, completing the first successful high-altitude test.[45]

Planned orbital launches

Workers near a tall spacecraft with heat shield
Examination of Starship SN20's heat shield, September 2021

In July 2021, Super Heavy BN3 conducted its first full-duration static firing, lighting three engines.[54] A month later, using cranes, Starship SN20 was stacked atop Super Heavy BN4 for the first time. Starship SN20 was the first to include a body-tall heat shield, made of hexagonal heat tiles.[55] In October 2021, the catching mechanical arms were installed onto the integration tower, and the first tank farm's construction was completed.[36] Two weeks later, NASA and SpaceX announced their plans to construct Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 49.[56]

In February 2022, after stacking Starship SN20 on top of Super Heavy BN4 using mechanical arms,[57] Elon Musk gave a presentation on Starship development at Starbase. He clarified much of the information provided in the past, gave updates on Raptor engine production, and mentioned a possible move to the Florida facility.[58] The next month, SpaceX and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell said the company would stop production of new Crew Dragon capsules to focus on making crewed Starships.[59] Later in June 2022, the Federal Aviation Administration determined that Starbase did not need a full environmental impact assessment, though the company must address outlined issues.[24]

Although SpaceX has not received a launch license for Starbase as of 13 June 2022,[60] the company explained the planned trajectory in a report sent to the Federal Communications Commission. During the orbital test flight, the rocket is planned to launch from Starbase, after which the Super Heavy booster will separate and perform a soft water landing around 30 km (20 mi) from the Texas shoreline. The spacecraft will continue flying with its ground track passing through the Straits of Florida and then softly land in the Pacific Ocean around 100 km (60 mi) northwest of Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands. The spaceflight will last ninety minutes.[61][62]


Starship is designed to be a fully reusable and orbital rocket, aiming to drastically reduce launch costs and maintenance between flights.[63] The rocket will consist of a Super Heavy first stage or a booster and a Starship second stage or spacecraft,[1] powered by Raptor and Raptor Vacuum engines.[64] One launch may deliver more than 100 t (220,000 lb) to low Earth orbit,[65] which would formally classify the rocket as a super heavy-lift launch vehicle.[a] When stacked and fueled, Starship is about 5,000 t (11,000,000 lb) by mass,[b] 9 m (30 ft) wide,[70] and 120 m (390 ft) high.[c] It is taller than the Saturn V by 9 m (30 ft), a rocket that was used for the NASA Apollo program of the 1960s and 1970s.[71] With Super Heavy's peak thrust of 72 MN (16,000,000 lbf),[72] the rocket has a thrust-to-weight ratio of about 1.45 at liftoff.[d]

Both Starship and Super Heavy's body are made from SAE 304L stainless steel.[29] According to Eric Berger from Ars Technica in March 2020, manufacturing of the Starship rocket starts with rolls of steel. They are then unrolled, cut, and welded along the cut edge to create a cylinder 9 m (30 ft) in diameter, 2 m (7 ft) in height, and around 1,600 kg (4,000 lb) in mass. To make the outer layer of the Starship spacecraft, seventeen of these cylinders and nose cones are stacked and welded along their edges. Betweem the methane and oxygen tanks are domes, made by robots welded at the rate of ten minutes per seam, equal to four hours per dome. These welds are later inspected with an X-ray machine.[34] Starship's reusability and stainless-steel construction has influenced other rockets such as the Terran R[73] and Project Jarvis.[74]

Raptor engine

A rocket engine with nozzle and intricate plumbing
Sea level-optimized Raptor engine

Raptor is a family of SpaceX-manufactured rocket engines used in Starship. It burns liquid oxygen and methane in a full-flow staged combustion cycle. Methane was chosen for the Raptor engines because it is cheaper, cannot build up of soot,[75] and can be produced on Mars via the Sabatier reaction.[76] The engines run at an oxygen-to-methane molar mass ratio of 3.6 : 1, which is somewhat more fuel-rich or lower than the stoichiometric mixture.[77] Combusting propellant at such mixture would overheat and damage the Raptor engines.[68] The engines' plume is expected to contain water, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrogen, methane, and oxygen.[18]: 49 

The engine family uses a new alloy and can obtain 300 bar (4,400 psi) inside the main combustion chamber, the highest of all current engines.[75] In the future, the engine family may be mass-produced[75] and may cost about $230,000 per engine and $100 per kilonewton.[68]

The Raptor family is the only full-flow staged combustion cycle engine currently in production. In the past, the Soviet Union and the United States tried to construct such an engine, but both products have never been put in a rocket.[75] A general full-flow staged combustion cycle engine has two preburners connected to their matching turbopumps. One of the preburners is fed with an oxidizer-rich mixture and the other is fed with a propellant-rich mixture, which both combust slightly to spin the matching turbines. The cycle then feeds all the oxidizer-rich and propellant-rich gaseous mixture into the combustion chamber, unlike other engine cycles that waste some propellant. This increases the engine's chamber pressure, making more thrust and being more efficient overall.[75][78][79]

SpaceX builds many other variants of Raptor. One variant is the Raptor Vacuum, which is designed to be fired in space and is equipped with a nozzle extension made from brazed steel tubes. The modifications increase the throat-area-to-exit-area ratio to 1:90 and specific impulse or fuel efficiency to 380 seconds. The Raptor 2 is the next generation in the family. It has a simpler design, produces 2.3 MN (520,000 lbf) of thrust, and has its specific impulse reduced by three seconds. In the long term, SpaceX plans to make three variants of Raptor; sea-level-optimized engine with gimbaled thrust, sea-level-optimized engine without gimbaled thrust, and vacuum-optimized engine without gimbaled thrust.[68]

Super Heavy booster

Super Heavy is the rocket's booster or first stage, and forms the lower part of the rocket. The booster measures 70 m (230 ft) tall, 9 m (30 ft) wide,[70] and houses up to thirty-three sea level-optimized Raptor engines. The engine cluster produces 72 MN (16,000,000 lbf) at full power, more than twice as powerful as the Saturn V.[72] Super Heavy is intended to be caught by mechanical arms at the integration tower, allowing for rapid repositioning.[80]

The booster's tanks can hold 3,600 t (7,900,000 lb) of propellant, consisting of 2,800 t (6,200,000 lb) of liquid oxygen and 800 t (1,800,000 lb) of liquid methane.[68][e] The booster can also hold 280 L (74 US gal) of hydraulic fluid.[18]: 158  The final design of Super Heavy is estimated to have a dry mass between 160 t (350,000 lb) and 200 t (440,000 lb). The tanks weigh 80 t (180,000 lb), the interstage between the booster and spacecraft weighs 20 t (44,000 lb), and all the engines and mounts weigh around 2 t (4,400 lb).[68]

The booster is equipped with four grid fins powered by electricity, each of which has a mass of 3 t (6,600 lb). The grid fins are unevenly spaced to allow the craft to obtain more pitch control and can only rotate in the roll axis.[68] Between the grid fins are hardpoints, which are used to lift and catch Super Heavy using the mechanical arms on the integration tower.[36] To control the booster's orientation, Super Heavy is going to fire cold gas thrusters that are fed with evaporated propellant inside the tanks. To detach from Starship spacecraft in space, the booster will move its firing engines and release the latches.[68]

Starship spacecraft

Panorama of stainless steel spacecraft
Leeward angle of Starship SN16 spacecraft

Starship is the rocket's second stage and a long-duration spacecraft on some missions.[81] The spacecraft is 50 m (160 ft) tall[70] and has a dry mass of less than 100 t (220,000 lb).[68] Starship's payload volume is about 1,000 m3 (35,000 cu ft),[65] larger than the International Space Station's pressurized volume by 80 m3 (2,800 cu ft),[82] and can be even bigger with an extended 22 m (72 ft)-tall volume.[83]: 2  By refueling the Starship spacecraft in orbit using tanker spacecraft, Starship will be able to transport larger payloads and astronauts to the Moon, Mars, and other destinations.[83]: 1, 5 

Starship has a total propellant capacity of 1,200 t (2,600,000 lb),[84] divided into main tanks and header tanks.[85] The header tanks have greater amount of insulation and are reserved to flip and land the spacecraft following reentry.[86] The spacecraft also holds 130 L (34 US gal) of hydraulic fluid.[18]: 158  At the bottom of the Starship spacecraft are six Raptor engines, three of which are designed for operation in the lower atmosphere, and the other three Raptor Vacuum engines are optimized to operate in the vacuum of space.[87] A set of reaction control thrusters mounted at the spacecraft's exterior are used to assist landing the craft.[40]

The spacecraft has four body flaps to control the spacecraft's falling velocity and orientation,[88] composed from two forward flaps and two aft flaps.[89] Under the forward flaps are hardpoints, used for lifting and catching the spacecraft via mechanical arms.[36] The flap's hinges are sealed with metal because they are easily damaged during reentry otherwise.[68] In a current Starship prototype as of August 2021, the nose cone is made from two rows of stretch-formed steel.[68]

Starship's heat shield, composed of thousands[55] of hexagonal black tiles,[87] is designed to be used multiple times, ultimately with no maintenance between flights.[63] The silica tiles[90] when mounted are spaced out to counteract heat expansion.[68] Their hexagonal shape is designed to enable mass production,[68] and prevent hot plasma from causing severe damage, allowing it to withstand temperatures of 1,400 °C (2,600 °F).[91]


The generic cargo spacecraft variant may feature a large door replacing conventional payload fairings. The payload door would be closed during launch, opened to release its payload once in orbit, and closed again during reentry. It may be possible to mount the payload on the inside of the payload bay's sidewalls using trunnions, suitable for payloads on ride-share missions. Payloads are integrated into a vertical rocket inside temperature-controlled, ISO class 8 clean air.[83]: 2–4  Spacecraft tasked with deploying Starlink v2.0 satellites are going to be fitted with a dispenser. It will release pairs of satellites through a slot, akin to a Pez candy dispenser.[92]

The crew spacecraft variant can be adapted for missions to the Moon, Mars, and other destinations. Each spacecraft can carry one hundred people, with "private cabins, large communal areas, centralized storage, solar storm shelters, and a viewing gallery".[83]: 5  Starship's life-support system is expected to be regenerative, where resources are constantly recycled. Other than that, little information about it is provided to the public.[93]

The tanker spacecraft variant can be used to refuel another Starship in orbit. According to Musk, up to eight launches of the tanker variant are needed to send a spacecraft to the Moon.[65] As of October 2020, the variant is under development for conducting a large-scale flight demonstration, transferring 10 t (22,000 lb) of propellant between two Starships.[94]

Starship HLS is a crewed lunar lander variant of the Starship spacecraft for NASA's Artemis program. The lunar lander may have windows and airlocks far away from the lunar surface,[95] along with an elevator and a set of thrusters to land on the Moon's surface.[96] The lunar lander may be able to carry a large amount of payload between outer space and the Moon. On an Artemis mission, it may launch ahead of the crew by up to a hundred days, accompanied with launches of refueling Starship tankers. Another variant of the lunar lander may be used for the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program,[95] where scientific, exploration, and commercial payloads are sent to the Moon.[97]

Mission profile

A short animation of Super Heavy's landing on mechanical arms. The actual landing speed is a few times slower.

Payloads are going to first integrated onto a rocket at a separate facility.[18]: 36  After Super Heavy and Starship are stacked onto a launch mount by lifting from hardpoints, they will be loaded with propellant via the quick disconnect arm and mount.[36] Roughly four hundred truck deliveries are needed for one launch, though some commodities will be provided on-site via an air separation unit.[18]: 161–162  Then, the arm and mount will be detached, all thirty-three engines of Super Heavy fire, and the rocket lifts off.[36]

After two minutes,[98] at an altitude of 65 km (40 mi), Super Heavy is going to cut off its engines,[18]: 21  releasing the latches, and steer its engines, causing the rocket stages to separate.[68] The booster will then flips its orientation, ignites its engines briefly, and return to the launch site via a controlled descent, similar to the Falcon 9's first stage.[18]: 21  Super Heavy is then going to be caught by a pair of mechanical arms.[80] After six minutes in flight,[98] about 20 t (44,000 lb) of propellant will remain inside the booster.[68]

Meanwhile, the Starship spacecraft is accelerating to orbital velocity. Once in orbit, the spacecraft can be refueled by Starship tankers variant, increasing the spacecraft's capacity.[65] To land on bodies without an atmosphere such as the Moon, Starship would turn on its engines and thrusters to slow down.[96] To land bodies with an atmosphere such as Earth and Mars, Starship is going to slow down first by entering the atmosphere, protected by its heat shield.[55] The spacecraft will then perform the belly-flop maneuver, by diving back through the atmosphere body first and stabilize using its four flaps.[40]

At the spacecraft's landing, the Raptor engines will fire,[40] consuming propellant from the header tanks,[86] and flip back to vertical orientation. At this stage, Raptor engines' gimbaling, throttle, and reaction control system's firing will help precisely maneuver the craft.[40] A pseudospectral optimal control algorithm by the German Aerospace Center predicted that the landing flip would tilt up to 20° from the ground's perpendicular line, and the angle would be reduced to zero on touchdown.[99] In the future, Starship is envisioned to be catched by mechanical arms, like the booster.[36]

If Starship's rocket stages land on a pad, a mobile hydraulic lift will then move them to a transporter vehicle. If the rocket stages land on a floating platform, they will be transported by a barge to a port and move the rest of the distance by road. After recovery, Super Heavy and Starship will either be positioned on the launch mount for another launch, or refurbished at a SpaceX facility.[18]: 22 

Applications and launches

Starship would replace all functions of SpaceX's Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets.[59] It is hoped its reusability will reduce launch costs, expanding space access to more payloads and entities.[100] Musk stated that Starship will cost less than $2 million for an orbital launch, however, multiple experts claim otherwise, citing the rocket's multi-billion-dollar development cost and its current lack of external demand.[101]

If SpaceX's vision is fully realized, Starship will be able to launch up to three times per day.[98] This would cause large greenhouse gas emissions; one space physicist roughly calculated one Starship launch produces the equivalent of continuously flying an airplane for three years. A substantial carbon footprint may result from propellant production, transportation, and storage. Analysis of rocket emissions effect on the environment, however, is complicated and more research is needed.[102]

Commercial and defense

Starship is intended to launch the next generation of SpaceX's Starlink communication satellites.[103] A space analyst at financial services company Morgan Stanley said development of Starship and Starlink are intertwined with each other because improvements in launch capacity and cost reduction aid Starlink satellite launches, and Starlink profits can be fed into Starship development.[104] Due to the increasing size and complexity of military satellites, it is likely Starship will be used for future United States Space Force and Department of Defense missions.[105] With an increasing number of satellites, Waleed Abdalati, a former NASA Chief Scientist, said the rocket may enable the recovery of space debris.[101]

The spacecraft can also be used for space tourism. A example is the dearMoon project announced by Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa, which consists of a flight around the Moon aboard Starship with a crew consisting of Maezawa and eight others.[106] Another example is the third flight of the Polaris program announced by Jared Issacman, Mission Commander of the Inspiration4 mission, which aimed to raise funds for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.[107]

In the future, Starship may host point-to-point flights, coined "Earth to Earth" by SpaceX, by traveling between spaceports on Earth. An example flight would be between New York City and Shanghai, which is estimated to be 39 minutes long. SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell predicted point-to-point travel could become cost-competitive with conventional business class flights.[108] Conversely, John Logsdon, an academic on space policy and history, said point-to-point travel is an unrealistic concept, as the craft would go back and forth from weightlessness to 5 g of acceleration.[109] In January 2022, SpaceX was awarded a $102 million, five-year contract to develop under the Rocket Cargo program,[110] aiming to carry military cargo to anywhere on Earth within an hour.[111]

Space exploration

See caption and article
Artemis 3 launch profile of a human landing on the Moon, involving Starship HLS, Starship tanker variants, and Orion spacecraft

Starship may be capable of launching large space telescopes such as the Habitable Exoplanet Imaging Mission and Large Ultraviolet Optical Infrared Surveyor that can directly image planets outside the Solar System.[100][65] Some planetary science researchers are beginning to incorporate Starship into their project plans, citing its low cost and high launch capacity.[112]

The rocket may enable large experiments and sample-return missions to the Moon and Mars that could be integrated into SpaceX's test landings of the spacecraft.[101] The probes it sends can be larger and more complex than those launched by conventional means, providing benefits for scientific investigation. Such a mission may investigate problems in astronomy, such as past volcanism on the Moon and the possible existence of extraterrestrial life.[65]

Starship's lunar lander variant, Starship HLS, is critical to the Artemis program, human exploration program of the Moon.[95] The lander is accompanied by Starship tankers and Starship propellant depot variants. The tankers transfer propellant to a depot till it is full, then the depot fuels Starship HLS. By doing so, the lunar lander has enough thrust to place itself to into a lunar orbit. Then, the crews on board the Orion spacecraft are launched with the Space Launch System. Orion then docks with Starship HLS and the crews transfer into the lander. After landing and returning, the lunar crews transfer back to Orion and returns to Earth.[113]

Space colonization

SpaceX has stated its goal is to colonize Mars to ensure the long-term survival of the human species.[114] Before founding SpaceX in 2001, a year earlier, Musk joined the Mars Society's board of director for a short time. There, together with Jim Cantrell, they failed to scout for a low-cost rocket in Russia, leading to the formation of the company.[115]: 30–31 

Starship is aimed to be a fully operational, long-duration Mars spacecraft and able to send back crew to Earth.[116]: 120  The Mars program's ambition is to eventually be able to send a million people to Mars, using a thousand Starships sent during a Mars launch window.[117] On Mars, to fuel return missions, resources on the planet such as subsurface water and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will be used. The Sabatier reaction then may be used to create liquid methane and liquid oxygen, Starship's propellant, in a power-to-gas plant.[76] On Earth, similar technologies can be used to create carbon-neutral propellant for the rocket.[118]

In March 2022, a tweet by Musk predicted SpaceX may land the first humans on Mars before 2029.[119] However, this goal is considered optimistic by a 2019 report prepared by Science and Technology Policy Institute. The report concluded that a NASA Mars orbital mission in 2033 cannot be achieved without aggressive development, though A more reasonable date for transit would be in 2037. Even in this time frame, construction of launch vehicles and ground equipment would cost at least $120 billion.[120] Furthermore, SpaceX has not detailed plans for life-support systems, radiation protection, and in situ resource utilization, technologies which are essential for space colonization.[93]


Testing and manufacturing

Various spacecraft constructed inside bays
A bay at Starbase build site, hosting construction of prototypes

Starbase consists of a manufacturing facility and launch site,[121] and is located at Boca Chica, Texas. Both facilities operate for twenty-four hours a day,[34] and a maximum of 450 full-time employees may be onsite.[18]: 28  The site is planned to consist of two launch sites, one payload processing facility, one seven-acre solar farm, and other facilities.[18]: 34–36  As of April 2022, the expansion plan's permit has been withdrawn by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, citing lack of information provided.[122]

Starbase also hosts the STARGATE researching facility owned by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, which SpaceX uses part of it for Starship development.[123] Since March 2022, one of Starship SN8's flaps had been on public display at Brownsville/South Padre Island International Airport.[124]

At McGregor, Texas, the Rocket Development facility tests all Raptor engines. The facility has two main test stands: one horizontal stand for both engine types and one vertical stand for sea-level-optimized rocket engines. Other test stands are used for checking Starship's reaction control thrusters and Falcon's Merlin engines. In the past, the McGregor facility hosted test flights of landable first stages; Grasshopper and F9R Dev1. In the future, a nearby factory, which as of September 2021 was under construction, will make the new generation of sea-level Raptors while SpaceX's headquarters in California will continue building the Raptor Vacuum and test new designs.[125]

At Florida, a facility at Cocoa purify silica for Starship heat-shield tiles, producing a slurry which is then shipped to another facility at Cape Canaveral. In the past, workers at this facility constructed the Starship Mk2 prototype in competition with Starbase's crews.[90] Within the state, the Kennedy Space Center is planned to host other Starship facilities, such as Starship launch sites at Launch Complex 39A, planned Launch Complex 49, and a production facility at Roberts Road. The production facility is being expanded from Hangar X, name for Falcon rocket boosters' storage and maintenance facility. Roberts Road facility will include a 30,000 m2 (320,000 sq ft) building, loading dock, and a place for constructing integration tower's sections.[126]

Launch sites

Launch site with a tank farm and launch tower
A launch site at Starbase, showing a tank farm and an integration tower in construction

Starbase is planned to host two launch sites, named Pad A and B.[18]: 34  A launch site at Starbase has large facilities, such as a tank farm, launch pad, and an integration tower. Smaller facilities are present at the launch site: tanks surrounding the area contain methane, oxygen, nitrogen, helium, hydraulic fluid, etc.;[18]: 161  subcoolers near the tank farm cool propellant using liquid nitrogen; and various pipes are installed at large facilities.[36] Each tank farm consists of eight tanks, enough for one orbital launch. The launch pad has a water sound suppression system, twenty clamps that hold down the booster, and a quick disconnect mount that provides the rocket with commodities and electricity.[36]

An integration tower or launch tower consists of steel truss sections, a lightning rod on top,[127] and a pair of mechanical arms that can lift, catch and recover the booster. The mechanical arms are attached onto a carriage and controlled by a pulley at the top of the tower. The pulley is linked to a winch and spool at the base of the tower, using a cable. Using the winch, the carriage and mechanical arms can move vertically, with support from bearings attached at the sides of the carriage. A linear hydraulic actuator is used to move the arms side by side. Tracks are mounted on top of arms, which are used to position the booster or spacecraft precisely. The tower are also mounted with a quick disconnect arm that can extend to and contract from the booster; its functions are similar to the quick disconnect mount.[36]

Other launch sites are in construction or being planned. Phobos and Deimos are the names of two Starship offshore launch platforms, both of which were in renovation as of March 2022.[128] Before being purchased from Valaris plc in June 2020, they were nearly-identical oil platforms named Valaris 8501 and Valaris 8500.[35] Their main decks are 78 m (260 ft) long by 73 m (240 ft) wide; their four columns are 15 m (49 ft) long and 14 m (46 ft) wide; and their helicopter decks are 22 m (72 ft) in diameter.[129] In February 2022, Musk stated Phobos and Deimos are not yet in SpaceX's focus. However, he stated that most Starship launches would start from offshore platforms in the far future.[57]

Since 2021,[130] the company is constructing a Starship launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida in Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A, and plan to make an additional one at 39A's north, named Launch Complex 49.[126] Launch Complex 39A is also used to launch Crew Dragon capsules to the International Space Station. Therefore, the company is studying how to strengthen the pad from a Starship explosion and proposed to retrofit Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40 instead. According to Musk, these launch sites at Cape Canaveral will become the primary ones, and Starbase in Texas will be used for research and development.[130] The towers at these launch sites should similar to one at Starbase, including the mechanical arms, with improvements.[126]


  1. ^ 100 t (220,000 lb) to low Earth orbit fits with both Russian[66] and United States[67] super heavy-lift classification.
  2. ^ Super Heavy dry mass: 160 t (350,000 lb) – 200 t (440,000 lb); Starship dry mass: <100 t (220,000 lb); Super Heavy propellant mass: 3,600 t (7,900,000 lb);[68] Starship propellant mass: 1,200 t (2,600,000 lb).[69] The total of these masses is about 5,000 t (11,000,000 lb).
  3. ^ Super Heavy is 70 m (230 ft) tall and Starship spacecraft is 50 m (160 ft) tall,[70] sum up to 120 m (390 ft).
  4. ^ 72 MN (16,000,000 lbf) of thrust divide by 5,000 t (11,000,000 lb) of weight gives 1.44, round up to 1.45.
  5. ^ 78% of 3,600 t (7,900,000 lb) is 2,800 t (6,200,000 lb) of liquid oxygen.


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