Things I'm excited to see Starship do
or: "Big rocket, even bigger dreams"
Disclaimer: I’m a data scientist who isn’t an expert on any of the things I’m about to talk about. I’m happy to be proven wrong on anything I write, because being wrong is an opportunity to learn.
This post was inspired by Casey Handmer’s Starship is Still Not Understood, which I highly recommend reading if you’d like to hear a better version of most of what I’m about to say. I felt like sharing my own thoughts on the topic, even if many of my thoughts were directly inspired by Casey’s post.
SpaceX’s Starship is on track to completely revolutionize all of space travel. Not only will it be the most powerful rocket ever built once it’s out of the prototype stage, it will also be ridiculously cheap to launch. The cost of launches will be more based on the cost of fuel than anything else, which, if not already impressive enough, becomes even more impressive when you consider that Raptor engines run on methalox! Over the next 5-10 years, launching things into space is going to get much, much easier than it ever has been before.
I am very, very excited about some of the potential missions Starship will make possible.
First and foremost is human spaceflight. Musk aims to reduce the cost of any person going to Mars to below $100,000:
That’s low enough that a large portion of the world’s population could afford it if they took out a 30-year “Mars mortgage”. Space won’t (initially) be accessible to everyone, but it’s about to become 10 million times more accessible than it has ever been before. Personally, I estimate a 95% chance that I’ll have the opportunity to visit Mars in my lifetime.
Another area where I feel Starship is going to make a monumental impact is telescopes. The James Webb Space Telescope is the most powerful telescope ever built. It’s roughly as big as a tennis court. Having such a large aperture allows it to gather enough light with its 18 gold-plated beryllium mirrors to see extremely dim stars billions of lightyears away. However, fitting such a massive telescope into a single payload for a modern rocket was not easy, and required more than a decade of extensive engineering to pull off.
Starship changes things. If you want to build a big telescope, you could build it in multiple pieces and launch each piece separately, without needing to take anywhere near as much regard for shaving off every last kilogram from your ideal observatory design. Starship will not only allow for rapid launching of these pieces one after the other, but also cheap launches. I think future telescopes more powerful than JWST will be built modularly, assembled in orbit over the course of a dozen or more Starship launches. I additionally anticipate these telescopes will manage to be significantly cheaper than JWST even with all the extra launches, and take much less time to engineer. Removing the need to make everything as light and compact as possible makes things a lot simpler.
The final area I see Starship making an impact in is asteroid mining. As excellently explained by CodyDon Reeder, asteroids often contain large amounts of concentrated ores for some rare materials, including platinum and gold. Platinum is useful as a catalyst among other things, but is scarce in Earth’s crust.
Starship enables long-term colonies on other celestial bodies including Mars and Luna to exist, which would make asteroid mining much easier, as we wouldn’t have to direct the whole operation from Earth—we could use Mars and Luna bases as hubs for mining operations taking place in the asteroid belt. Mars is closer to the belt than Earth, and Luna has the advantage of being relatively close to Earth while avoiding being deep in its gravity well.
There are other ways Starship will be revolutionary, too, but the three I’ve mentioned above are the ones I’m most excited for. Sure, the ultra-rich will enjoy their 30-minute flights from New York to Beijing, but that doesn’t particularly excite me. I do think huge satellite constellations eventually driving the price of internet for the average person down to almost nothing will be nifty, but I don’t have much to say on that topic.
In summary: Starship is a big deal.
Thanks for reading,