Starship

SpaceX is primarily a rocket launch company. They design, build, and launch rockets and spacecraft that ferry satellites to orbit and people to and from the International Space Station. Their workhorse launch vehicle is called Falcon 9 Full Thrust and the latest generation of that rocket, the Block 5, has been in service since 2018. (Earlier versions of the Falcon 9 Full Thrust date back to 2015 and the first version of Falcon 9 came out in 2010.) Falcon 9 will continue to be the workhorse for the company for a few years but they’re deep into development of their next generation rocket.

Where Falcon 9 is partially re-usable, the booster does a propulsive landing to be refurbished and relaunched, the second stage of the rocket is disposable. With SpaceX’s next generation rocket, dubbed Starship, the whole stack, booster and second stage, will be fully and rapidly reusable. Both will perform propulsive landings, and if all goes according to plan will be refueled and relaunched with nothing but light maintenance like we see in the aircraft industry.

Not only will Starship be fully reusable, it will be much larger than Falcon 9. Falcon 9 is 230 feet tall and 12 feet in diameter (pretty skinny for a rocket) and has a payload fairing that can carry 35,000 lbs (volume of about 5,000 cubic feet) to low Earth orbit. Starship will be 390 feet tall and 30 feet in diameter and will be able to ferry over 200,000 lbs (volume of almost 40,000 cubic feet) to low Earth orbit.

As soon as it’s ready, Starship will become SpaceX’s primary orbital vehicle. Today it is in the prototype phase and the upper stage has completed test flights up to 10 km with one successful landing.

One of the things that’s really exciting to me about Starship is that it will be able to launch about 400 Starlink satellites at a time (compared to the 60 they can launch on Falcon 9.) With Starship, SpaceX will be able to take the Starlink constellation to the next level, perhaps increasing its numbers by more than ten thousand satellites per year.