Sep 3, 2019

The future of SpaceX's Starship

Starhopper flying through the sky above Texas. Photo: SpaceX

Last week, SpaceX launched the final test of Starhopper, a prototype of its Starship spacecraft that is designed to eventually take 100 people at a time to deep space destinations like the Moon or Mars.

Context: SpaceX is building on the reusability of its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets with Starship, but the new interplanetary system will have some key differences.

  • The Starship and Super Heavy rockets will be powered by SpaceX's Raptor engines, while the company's current rockets make use of Merlin engines.
  • Super Heavy and Starship are each expected to fly up to 1,000 times, according to SpaceX founder Elon Musk.
  • Raptor engines use methane as fuel, and it might be possible to extract methane from Mars or other bodies for use as propellant one day.

Details: The successful Starhopper test paves the way for SpaceX's plans to test 2 more prototypes currently being built in Texas and Florida.

  • The two vehicles, called Mk1 and Mk2, represent some healthy competition between SpaceX teams, and it's only the start, according to Musk.
  • "Both sites will make many Starships," Musk said on Twitter in May. "This is a competition to see which location is most effective. Answer might be both."
  • SpaceX has said that the first commercial Starship flights could begin as early as 2021. The company currently has 1 confirmed Starship mission announced for 2023, when a group of artists are expected to take a trip around the Moon.

What to watch: Musk said that the company is planning on a 20-kilometer (12-mile) flight of Mk1 in October, with an orbital test to follow. Musk is expected to update the public on the progress of Starship development on Sept. 28.

Go deeper: Mars' spacecraft go on summer vacation

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Elon Musk reveals SpaceX's Starship prototype

SpaceX's Starship prototype in Boca Chica, Texas. Photo: SpaceX

SpaceX founder Elon Musk unveiled the company's prototype Starship during a flashy event at its test site in Boca Chica, Texas, on Saturday night.

Why it matters: Musk hopes that one day the fully realized Starship will transport people and payloads to destinations like the Moon and Mars, helping to make humanity multiplanetary and insulating the species from any existential threats that could impact Earth.

Go deeperArrowSep 29, 2019

The UAE's long view to Mars

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

As the U.S., China and others focus on launching rockets and putting boots on the Moon, the tiny Gulf nation of the United Arab Emirates is set on building a settlement on Mars in 100 years.

Driving the news: Last week, the UAE sent its first astronaut, Hazzaa al-Mansoori, to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

Go deeperArrowOct 1, 2019

The coming cost of moving satellites

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

With thousands of small satellites expected to launch to orbit in the coming years, the risks of collisions will likely increase and a fight could break out over who should bear the cost of managing greater space traffic.

Why it matters: Some experts say the burden of moving satellites out of harm's way could increasingly fall on the operators of larger spacecraft, not those managing mega-constellations of internet-beaming small satellites. That could raise the cost of operating weather, Earth imaging or other types of satellites in lower orbits by forcing larger spacecraft to expend precious fuel more often.

Go deeperArrowSep 10, 2019