Innovation

Musk Reads: Starship's Super Heavy booster detailed

Starship could enable new giant telescopes and Crew Dragon’s Doug Hurley tells Inverse his thoughts on getting to Mars and how to land the Crew Dragon. How can readers volunteer with the space community?

Starship could enable new giant telescopes and Crew Dragon’s Doug Hurley tells Inverse his thoughts on getting to Mars and how to land the Crew Dragon. How can readers volunteer with the space community? It’s Musk Reads: SpaceX Edition #165.

A version of this article appeared in the “Musk Reads” newsletter. Sign up for free here.

Musk quote of the week

“Will have 31 engines, not 37, no big fins and legs similar to ship. That thrust dome is the super hard part. Raptor SL thrust starts at 200 ton, but upgrades in the works for 250 ton.”

SpaceX

Getting humans to Mars is going to require a combination of the private sector, the public sector, and international cooperation. That’s according to NASA astronaut Doug Hurley, who, along with Bob Behnken, will launch into space on the first manned flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon on May 27. Hurley told Inverse that “to go to Mars, as a species, is going to most likely involve all those entities,” with a private firm bringing “innovation” and “agility” to the table that can bring “a huge amount of capability to be successful.” Read more.

A successful Crew Dragon launch will pave the way for missions to Mars in more ways than one. Data from the futuristic space suit will also help researchers understand and develop suits for new missions. Benji Reed, director of crew mission management at SpaceX, told Inverse during a Friday NASA press conference that “we’ll be taking what we learned from these suits and getting the data from it and applying that for future missions.” It should be noted that SpaceX’s suit, first unveiled in August 2017, is not designed with extravehicular activity in mind. Read more.

What’s next for SpaceX: SpaceX is set to launch the eighth batch of 60 Starlink satellites from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Originally scheduled for May 7, it’s now expected to take place later in the month at an as yet undetermined time.

SpaceX Starship

The Super Heavy booster has received new details. The booster, designed to support the Starship in missions leaving Earth, is now expected to feature 31 Raptor engines to help support its mission. In a September 2019 event, Musk suggested the figure could be anywhere between 24 and 37 but that 31 was the likely ideal figure. The new version of the Super Heavy will also have no large fins, plus legs similar to the Starship itself. Musk also explained that there are upgrades in the works for the sea-level Raptors, bringing the thrust from 200 ton to 250 ton. Read more.

All this is set to power a ship that could send over 150 tons, or 100 people, into space – or even a telescope triple the size of Hubble. Musk suggested last week the ship could send up a mirror around 24 feet in diameter, three feet larger than the planned James Webb Space Telescope. Read more.

Musk Reads mailroom

Frederick Mills writes:

While a good idea, I’m concerned with the number of satellites being launched all adding the amount of low earth objects in orbit around the earth. There must be some point where we may not be able to launch any additional missions because of the congestion. Would appreciate a comment. Thank you and thanks for your great work!

It’s a good question and one that has come up before. In October 2019, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell explained how Starlink could avoid satellites because it’s not really planning to send up as many as it seems. There are around 5,000 in space as it stands, including inactive ones, and SpaceX has applied for permission to launch over 30,000. Shotwell said that if Earth were populated with 30,000 people, imagine how long it could take to find another person – perhaps a whole lifetime! The main result of SpaceX’s plans, however, may be that it makes it harder for future mega-constellations to try and reach similar sizes.

Randy Pratt writes:

Hi, I’m a retired tool and production planner/manufacturing engineer.

I would like to be involved in the effort to send humans to the moon, Mars, and beyond. I’m financially secure so I don’t require additional income. At the same time I would be interested in helping with the effort. Realizing the massive effort and cost required to accomplish the goal of reaching the Moon and Mars it seems logical that a volunteer group might be worth considering.

Has any discussion of this concept occurred within the ranks of management to your knowledge? I believe that there may be great potential for capitalizing the energy and expertise of those of us in my circumstance.

This may sound like an odd idea but even retired engineers need to feel productive! I’m sure many of us would benefit from the opportunity to put our imaginations to work again!

I am not aware of any such program at SpaceX, but a great way to get involved may be to volunteer with an external organization. The Space Foundation advocacy group has a volunteer sign-up page to assist with educational and other efforts. The Planetary Society nonprofit also has tips and resources on educating others in the local community about space. NASA’s Solar System Ambassador program is also designed to help spread the word. It’s an exciting time in space exploration, but many people in the wider public are unaware. Volunteering could help inspire the next generation and spark passion in the broader community!

Got any comments or queries? Don’t forget to send them over to muskreads@inverse.com.

Photo of the week

Starship’s sheer size is captured in a new image.

The close-up of the Starship.Elon Musk/Twitter

Got any photos or videos you’d like to share? Feel free to send them over to muskreads@inverse.com.

The ultra-fine print

This has been Musk Reads: SpaceX Edition #165, the weekly rundown of essential reading about futurist and entrepreneur Elon Musk. I’m Mike Brown, an innovation journalist for Inverse.

A version of this article appeared in the “Musk Reads” newsletter. Sign up for free here.

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