Starship: here’s where SpaceX will build those inter-Earth spaceports

It might not be where you expect.

The Starship taking off.

SpaceX could be about to speed up city-to-city travel around the Earth, but actually getting to the launch pad could prove a journey in and of itself.

The company is currently developing the Starship, a fully-reusable stainless steel rocket designed to transport up to 100 people at once to Mars and beyond. The rocket is also expected to enable trips around the Earth at hyperfast speed, cutting down the eight-hour flight from London to New York down to a 30-minute rocket jump. The rocket would see around 1,000 people strapped in and traveling at Mach 25 speeds, all with a ticket that costs a bit more than an economy class flight.

On Tuesday, Musk shed a little more light on how this service would work in practice. Musk explained that the spaceports would likely be placed around 20 miles offshore away from those cities. This would be necessary, he wrote, to maintain “acceptable noise levels, especially for frequent daily flights.”

With Starship potentially hosting a flight around once every eight hours, that could mean a lot of noise for those near to the spaceport.

Elon Musk, standing underneath Starship Mk.1.
Musk, standing underneath Starship Mk.1.

Starship: how the spaceport compares to airports

Anyone that’s lived near an airport will understand the struggles of transport noise, but placing the spaceport such a distance from the city could change the dynamics of getting to and from the Starship.

FreeMapTools shows the following distances as the crow flies from these major airports to a key center point:

  • New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport is 12.7 miles from Grand Central Terminal.
  • London’s Heathrow Airport is 14.3 miles from Charing Cross.
  • Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport is 15.1 miles from Notre Dame.
  • Tokyo’s Haneda Airport is 9.4 miles from the Imperial Palace.
  • Beijing’s Capital International Airport is 15.6 miles from the Forbidden City.

Bear in mind that this is just the distance from the city center to the airport. But Musk is talking about placing the spaceport 20 miles offshore, which could mean a much longer route. The distance from London’s Charing Cross to Southend-on-Sea, a town where the River Thames opens out onto the North Sea, is around 36 miles. That means, based on these very rough approximations, a London Starship spaceport would lie at least 60 miles from the city center.

BFR Earth Trips
BFR, predecessor to Starship, landing on Earth.

Starship: the race to speed up journey times

A 60-mile trip from the city center to spaceport seems like it would eat up a large proportion of time. There’s a few things to bear in mind about the plan that could make the journey somewhat more manageable.

The first is that the Starship would still save a sizeable amount of time versus flying. In the case of London, a train to Southend-on-Sea takes less than an hour and a half. That means it could take around two hours of travel time to get from New York’s spaceport to the center of London, plus the time on the boat to reach the spaceport. That’s still a lot less than the eight hours of travel time on a plane.

Another is that Musk has previously floated the prospect of using a hyperloop to connect spaceports to their respective cities. The vacuum-sealed pod transit system has never publicly demonstrated anywhere close to its possible 700 mph speeds, although teams involved have previously told Inverse that this is because nobody has built a long enough track. That said, the Starship has also never flown, let alone completed an inter-Earth trip.

Musk claimed in May 2018 that a hyperloop could travel underground and under the ocean to reach a spaceport in around 10 minutes. That would mean a New York to London trip could still take less than an hour from city center to city center.

Considering that’s still eight times faster than a flight, perhaps a spaceport in the sea wouldn’t be such a bad tradeoff.

Media via SpaceX