Foretold’s SpaceX Starship predictions and summary thread update (long thread):
SpaceX has an ambitious project to develop Starships for space travel including missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond. Their success will depend on their ability to surmount difficult technological challenges as well as social, political and economic factors
On 2nd August, the crew dragon astronauts returned to Earth, enabling SpaceX to open new crewed revenue streams to fund Starship
SpaceX has performed a static fire test of its single raptor engine on Starship prototype SN5, and are now ready to attempt the 150m altitude hop which is predicted to take place by 17th August. If it fails they will repeat using SN6 which may take a few extra weeks to set up
SN8 & SN10 are being prepared for future testing. These prototypes use 304L steel which was tested in the SN7 tank. It performed better than the 301 used for SN5 & SN6. SN9 may be reserved for a tank test with further refinements to the material to improve strength to mass ratio
The exact schedule has not been published and depends on the success of failure of progressive attempts. Flights of 3km, 10km and 20km altitude are expected. Nose cones, fins and more engines will be added as they go higher and landings will move out to sea platforms for safety
At altitude, Starship will perform a bellyflop manoeuvre before recovering an upright position for a retro-thrust landing. Suborbital flights up to 100km could be used to test re-entry heat shielding and flight control
These tests will give SpaceX the capability for hyper-sonic intercontinental test flights by 2023 when the first crewed prototypes can be expected to make suborbital flights with up to about 10 passengers. Offshore landing platforms may be constructed for this purpose
Robot welding will be used to mass-produce Starships to various specs and methane/LOX fuel will be manufactured from CO2/H2O using renewable energy sources by 2023
SpaceX will then be ready for near orbital flights of Starship using its six engine configuration, but unless dramatic improvements are accomplished they will require the Super-Heavy Booster to achieve orbital capability
An 80+ metre High Bay at Boca Chica will be completed in Q4 2020 so that prototype construction of the SHB can begin. This booster will be 70 metres high and 9m in diameter with 31 raptor engines
A Launchpad for SHB is already under construction at Boca Chica. Testing will begin in 2021 with orbital launches of Starship on SHB by 2023
For re-entry from orbit, heating and material expansion will present significant challenges to flight control, body strength and cabin temperature. Crewed orbital flights and return may therefore not be possible until at least 2024
Starship will deploy satellites and dock with the space-station. Uncrewed ISS missions, large satellite deployment, recovery of defunct satellites from Earth orbit, and in-orbit refuelling will be used to prove additional reliability and capability during 2024
SpaceX originally hoped to send cargo to Mars in 2022 but a departure date during the 2024 Mars transfer window for arrival in 2025 is more realistic. They could send two or more cargo Starships to prepare for later colonisation.
Landing vertically on Mars with no prepared landing site will be risky. It will also be difficult to get cargo out of an upright ship. In lower gravity they may opt for a more stable and accessible vertical landing in a horizontal position
A return flight test from Mars surface arriving back in 2026 for at least one Starship is a possibility
Although NASA hopes for a crewed moon landing in 2024 in the Artemis program, this target will slip. Assembly of Lunar Gateway in moon-orbit could take place in 2025 with Starship delivering some modules to the station and cargo to the Lunar surface
Certification of Starship for crewed flights will require demonstration of high reliability and will take time. Launch, re-entry and landing will be the most critical elements. Keeping the cabin cool and safe during re-entry will be a particular challenge
The lack of an abort mechanism for escape of the crew if the Starship fails will present a particular obstacle to certification for crewed flight. Very high levels of reliability will be required to overcome this
Starship may therefore be certified for orbital and interplanetary crewed flight before it is ready to be crewed in the Earth’s atmosphere. Crew will launch and return via Crew dragon and transfer to Starship in orbit.
A crewed landing on the moon in 2026 is realistic. NASA will have its own crewed lander but Starship will also land astronauts on the Lunar surface in order to practice for a crewed Mars mission
Although the Moon is a useful staging post for interplanetary travel, it is more difficult to colonise than Mars. Sunlight follows a four week cycle in most places, but water can only be found near the poles where there are 6 month long days and nights
Unless nuclear power fuelled by H3 can be developed, Lunar colonies will have to migrate between the poles in annual cycles to sustain power from photovoltaic cells
In 2028 full crewed flights from Earth to orbit and back will begin. Starship will then enter into space tourism including a round moon trip with passengers: Dear Moon.
The first crewed flight to Mars is most likely in 2028 following a considerable number of cargo missions during the previous 2026 transfer window to endure that adequate supplies and available at the destination
Before mass migration to Mars is possible, SpaceX will have to show that food can be grown on Mars using hydroponic systems. Water will need to be collected on the planet and fuel will have to be produced for a return capability
Radiation exposure during journeys to Mars will be a potential problem. Radiation shielding will reduce passenger numbers so early flights will have small crews. Mass migration to Mars will not begin until the solar sunspot cycle reaches a minimum around 2032
Automated mining, production, manufacture and agriculture will be crucial for a sustainable colony on Mars. Robotics will advance significantly by 2040 driven by space exploration
The initial design with a 9m diameter will be followed to larger versions of the Starship with diameters up to 18m by 2050.
In the second half of the 21st century space exploration will extend to moon of Jupiter and Saturn, asteroids and man-made space-platforms.
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