Technology

Why there will be more flights of Elon Musk's super rocket and how likely is it to be interstellar

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By parm maan

Spacex launched a rocket from Texas

An impressive 122 meters high and 9 meters wide Starshiphe The world's largest rocket has surprised everyone again on March 14, when a 5,000-ton (5 million kilogram) mass flew for the third time in its history and reached space without exploding, as it did in the first two attempts.

The huge ship SpaceX, The space company, designed and led by its CEO Elon Musk, consists of two parts which They finally successfully ascended, firing their first stage 33 Raptor engines, the engine called Super Heavy (Super Heavy) and stainless steel reusable upper second stage, also known as “Starship“.

Both stages of the rocket separated, as expected. allowing the main ship to orbit the Earth, as the engineers planned during this test flight.

Elon Musk founded SpaceX and the most powerful rocket ever built, Starship (REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare)

Most of the weight of the megarocket corresponds to the first stage Super Heavy (3400 tons), meanwhile Starship has a gross mass of 1320 tons. The acquisition brings the company one step closer to Musk's goal of taking humans to deep space destinations like Mars.

Starship is the largest and most powerful rocket ever developed. taller than the Saturn V (110 meters) that sent Neil Armstrong to the Moon or NASA's SLS (Space Launch System) (111 meters) that launched to the Moon on the Artemis mission on November 16, 2022 without staff.

33 Raptor engines combine to propel the 5,000-ton ship (REUTERS/Cheney Orr)

Just like SpaceX's workhorse, The Falcon 9 rocket, Starship makes every effort to be reusable. Although two of the Starship's stages have not been recovered in these first three flights, everything indicates that Musk's company will do so in the next ones. In fact, this allowed, for example, that Falcon 9 rocket can be launched 98 times by 2023. using the same ship multiple times.

The tactics that made the Falcon 9 the most widely used rocket of its time are now being applied to the Starship. They repeat many things that also explain the huge success of Musk's electric car company, Tesla.

Spacecraft re-entering Earth's atmosphere after 50 minutes of flight (SPACE X)

Success has been the most important thing Musk and SpaceX CEO Gwynn Shotwell through the promotion of disruptive technologies in general production. In the case of the Falcon 9, it meant use 3D printing for your engines, the most complex part of the rocket and reuse the main engine for future launches.

Overall, the success of the Starship requires the construction of a two-stage rocket: the Starship itself and the Starship Super Heavy launch vehicle. Speaking of the launch vehicle, it has 33 Raptor engines and is used so that the Starship can leave Earth and return there to be used again. It's nothing more than SpaceX's reuse philosophy taken to the maximum capacity of current technology.

“The key is in the reuse of missiles“explained SpaceX, which plans to a The same ship can be used for up to 50 trips to space. Raptor engines are also in action here. Although they are not the most powerful or the most efficient, they are the most convenient. Because? There are three main reasons.

Classic Raptor 9 rocket burn from Elon Musk's SpaceX rocket (SpaceX)
  1. Raptor engine easier to control thermallycrucial for long journeys such as Mars and other more distant planets.
  2. Use methane as a cleaner burning fuelwhich means less maintenance.
  3. This significantly reduces the cost per kilogram of sending cargo into space. While the Merlin engine costs $117 per kilonewton of thrust (kn) and the RS-25 costs $1,414 per kn, the Raptor costs only $20 per kn.

Besides, A Super Heavy can return to the same launch pad, something the Falcon 9 did not do, instead heading to other landing sites. This further reduces costs.

Musk assured that he already has 4 more ships built for testing (SPACEX-MUSK)

Before the third launch of the Starship, the space company SpaceX announced that they were already built four more starships in its facilities Starbase in South Texas, where the launch took place.

“These vehicles are designed for future flight tests like today,” he said. Siva Bharadwaj, A SpaceX space operations engineer during the launch webcast. “And in fact, just this week we statically launched our next ship, which plans to sail to test the booster as soon as the launch pad is ready,” he added.

SpaceX will aim to get this and future vehicles off the ground as quickly as possible, in keeping with the company's “build and fly” philosophy. in fact, Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX said the company hopes to launch at least 6 Starship missions by 2024.

Starship's first flight from Texas in April 2023. The flight lasted 4 minutes, but it was a big step forward for SpaceX (REUTERS/Joe Skipper/File Photo)

Musk is known for his aggressive timelines, but analysts believe this could be achieved. The thing is, only seven months passed between the first Starship test flight, in April 2023, and the second, which took place last November.

The time between the second flight and today's launch was only four months, so the launches are getting faster and faster, with less time between each one. Mechanical engineering has already started its march and does not seem to stop. On the contrary, it increases its speed.

so the deadline for the fourth flight should be shorter, considering the milestones mentioned in the third mission. For example, the Super Heavy successfully positioned itself for a landing after separating from the upper stage, putting itself in a jump-off position in the Gulf of Mexico (although it failed to land).

And the upper stage reached orbital velocity, opened its cargo door in space, as is done in operational satellite flights, and survived re-entry into Earth's atmosphere. 50 minute flight.

Elon Musk explains what spaceflight will be like on Starship (REUTERS/Sonali Paul)

SpaceX also plans to use Starship to land humans on Mars. as Musk has repeatedly emphasized. Establishing a sustainable city on the Red Planet would require a staggering number of launches. If all goes according to plan, Starship will take astronauts to the Moon for the first time with the Artemis 3 mission, which is tentatively scheduled to launch in September 2026.

We can go to other places in the solar system, like Saturn, but I think the most important thing to focus on is the fastest way to a self-sufficient city on Mars.“Those were the words pronounced the billionaire businessman Elon Musk two years ago when presenting his a new Starship rocket, with which it aims to create a space revolution like the legendary Apollo that took man to the moon. It was September 28, 2019, but his words are becoming more relevant now.

with Capacity to carry up to 165 tons in low Earth orbitHis fans argue that Musk is set to transform the startup economy. “It's game over for incumbent startups. There's no vehicle on the drawing board that can compete,” says American astronaut entrepreneur Peter Diamandis.

Spacecraft can travel to distant planets and their possibly habitable, water-bearing moons (SpaceX)

SpaceX's Starship megarocket may eventually live up to its bold name and become a starship. “A future version of the Starship will be interstellarsaid Elon Musk, the brain behind its conception.

“This starship is designed to travel through our entire solar system and beyond into the cloud of objects around us. A future starship, much larger and more advanced, will travel to other star systems“, Musk said via X In the early morning of Monday, March 18th.

Starship consists of two stainless steel elementsA huge first stage booster called a Super Heavy and a top tier spaceship like a Starship or just a Ship. Both vehicles are designed to be fully and rapidly reusable, and both are powered by SpaceX's next-generation Raptor engine; 33 for Super Heavy and 6 for Ship.

Largest rockets ever built with Starship at 122 meters (SpaceX)

When stacked, the Starship is about 122m tall. It is the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, capable of carrying up to 165 tons into Earth orbit in its reusable configuration. For comparison, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket has a maximum payload of about 25 tons (23 metric tons).

Analysts explain it Much more work and many more test flights will be needed before Starship is ready to carry astronauts into deep space.. And launching the interstellar version would require a much larger flight., with new fuels and capabilities. A flight that is hard to imagine today.

Humanity is simply nowhere near able to develop a manned spacecraft capable of interstellar travel on a reasonable time scale. The distances are so terrifyingly vast that, for example, the closest star to our Sun, the red dwarf Proxima Centauri, is 4.2 light years away.

Actual photo of the second Starship flight in November 2023 (SpaceX)

That's the equivalent of about 40 billion kilometers. Today's conventional rocket probe would take tens of thousands of years to cover that journey.

Researchers have ideas about how to make travel more feasible. The Breakthrough Starshot initiative, for example, is working on a system that can accelerate starships to 20% the speed of light using super-powerful ground-based lasers.

These vehicles could reach Proxima Centauri in just 20 years after launch, if all goes well. But for it to be a reality, several generations must pass. For now, we have to look a little farther and think about returning to the Moon in 2026 and setting foot on Mars in the next decade.

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