Exploring The Universe With Starship Rocket

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  • One great benefit is that Starship could carry full-sized equipment from Earth-no need to miniaturize it to fit in a smaller vehicle, as was required for the Apollo missions to the moon.
  • One idea, from an international group of scientists called Conex, is a spacecraft called Arcanum, which would make use of Starship’s heavy-lifting capabilities to explore Neptune and its largest moon, Triton.
  • Musk has suggested that SpaceX could launch as many as a dozen Starship test flights in 2022, with missions to the moon and Mars both on the horizon-and plenty of scientific potential to boot.

If all goes according to plan, SpaceX will launch the world’s largest rocket next month. The Starship rocket, which stands nearly 400 feet tall, is designed to transport NASA humans to the moon. Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, has grander plans for the company: he wants to utilise it to colonise Mars with humans as reported by MIT Technology Review.

Sending missions

Much has already been made of Starship’s human spaceflight capabilities.

“Starship would totally change the way that we can do solar system exploration,” says Ali Bramson, a planetary scientist from Purdue University.

“Planetary science will just explode.” If it lives up to its billing, scientists are already talking about sending missions to Neptune and its largest moon in the outer solar system, bringing back huge quantities of space rock from Earth’s moon and Mars, and even developing innovative ways to protect Earth from incoming asteroids.

The volume of usable space within Starship is a whopping 1,000 cubic meters-big enough to fit the entire Eiffel Tower, disassembled.

“Starship is, like, wow,” says James Head, a planetary scientist from Brown University.

In mid-November, speaking in a publicly accessible virtual meeting about Starship hosted by the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Musk discussed the project’s scientific potential.

“Along the way, we will learn a great deal about the nature of the universe.” 

Starship could carry “a lot of scientific instrumentation” on flights, said Musk-far more than is currently possible.

Cheap and reusable

Central to many of these ideas is that Starship is designed to be not just large but cheap to launch.

Whereas agencies like NASA and ESA must carefully choose a smattering of missions to fund, with launch costs in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, Starship’s affordability could open the door to many more.

“You can imagine privately financed missions and consortia of citizens who get together to fly things.” What’s more, Starship has a key advantage over other super-heavy-lift rockets in development, such as NASA’s much-delayed Space Launch System and Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket.

The upper half of the rocket is designed to be refuelled in Earth orbit by other Starships, so more of its lifting capability can be handed over to scientific equipment rather than the fuel.

Taking humans to the moon, for example, might require eight separate launches, with each consecutive “Tanker Starship” bringing up fuel to the “Lunar Starship” that then makes its way to the moon with scientific equipment and crew.

One great benefit is that Starship could carry full-sized equipment from Earth-no need to miniaturize it to fit in a smaller vehicle, as was required for the Apollo missions to the moon.

“What else do you want to bring?” Because Starship can land back on Earth, it will also theoretically be able to bring back vast amounts of samples.

Let’s go to Neptune

One idea, from an international group of scientists called Conex, is a spacecraft called Arcanum, which would make use of Starship’s heavy-lifting capabilities to explore Neptune and its largest moon, Triton.

No existing rocket could currently launch such a craft, but Starship would make it possible.

The mission could also be equipped with a telescope, allowing for studies of the outer solar system and aiding the hunt for planets around other stars.

Philip Lubin, a physicist from the University of California, Santa Barbara, calculated that a large enough rocket, such as Starship, could be used to prevent an asteroid from hitting Earth.

Starship could also be a better way to launch giant space telescopes that can observe the universe.

Currently, equipment such as NASA and ESA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope must be launched folded up, an expensive, complex, and delicate procedure that could be prone to error.

NASA has suggested that a proposed super-telescope called LUVOIR designed to image Earth-like planets around other stars could launch on Starship, while Musk has said SpaceX is already working on “An interesting project, which is to have a really big telescope, taking a lens that was intended for a ground-based telescope, and creating a space-based telescope with it.” No further details have yet been revealed.

Neighbouring Solar Systems

Elsewhere, some scientists have dreams of using Starship to prepare to visit other stars.

René Heller from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany and colleagues say that Starship could offer a low-cost way to test technologies for a spacecraft that can travel multiple light-years to neighbouring star systems.

Starship could release a sail-powered spacecraft on a trip to Mars, which would use an onboard laser to push against a thin sail and reach incredible speeds, enabling a demonstration to be conducted beyond Earth’s orbit.

“But mass helps those things. You can have plenty of fuel and radiation shielding.” Musk has suggested that SpaceX could launch as many as a dozen Starship test flights in 2022, with missions to the moon and Mars both on the horizon-and plenty of scientific potentials to boot.

“Once Starship starts flying, the development will be very fast,” says Margarita Marinova, a former senior Mars development engineer at SpaceX. “There will be so many more people who will be able to fly things.” Those could be anything from standalone missions using Starship to ride-along missions on the existing flight manifest.

While Starship has flown test flights without the Super Heavy booster, we have yet to see the full rocket launch.

Starship’s proposed method to reach the moon and Mars, relying on multiple refuelling missions in Earth orbit, remains complex and untested.

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Source: MIT Technology Review

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