It took nine tries, but in the end Elon Musk’s Space X company achieved its goal: to recover an intact ship. Starship After it was raised to a height of 10 kilometers. The first experiment happened at the end of 2019. This experiment and the next seven ended in RUD (acronym, with a bitterness of humor, corresponds to Unscheduled fast disassemble (Unexpectedly Fast Dismantling) which sums up the devastating impact on Earth.
Used to learn how to recover orbital missiles Falcon Routinely, this series of catastrophes may surprise it finally being crowned with success. But is this Spacecraft They are another class of completely different machines. Not only do they land vertically like their younger brothers, but they previously performed an unusual maneuver by turning horizontally while falling only to straighten when carrying a few hundred meters above the ground.
Specifically, the transition to lateral flight maneuver (“belly turn”, in colloquial X-space language) is necessary to re-enter the atmosphere. In this position, the vessel will exhibit a much larger surface to air friction and the braking will be more effective. In fact, when it makes orbital flights, half of its body will be covered with thermal protection tiles, similar to the one that covered the shuttle.
Because the fuselage is cylindrical, all tiles will be the same, hexagonal Starship They are easy to cover. In contrast, the shuttle body, which is very similar to an airplane, has many angles and slits that require thousands of pieces of various shapes and sizes. Technicians had to place it by hand, one by one, in place precisely like a huge jigsaw puzzle.
The ability to operate three engines mid-flight was one of the biggest problems in the development of this ship
In the event that Starship, The first tiles will also be installed by hand, but as flights become more prevalent (they are reusable ships), SpaceX envisions it will be a robot that will take over the task. Another way to speed up the process. And make it cheaper.
Contrary to what might be assumed, it is the “wings” that decorate the front and back Starship They are not wings. They are Paintings They are deployed more or less to provide air resistance, horizontal descent control and then straightening to lift the ship in an upright position with the help of the three motors, which are turned off during the first kilometers of fall. They only come for a few seconds to restore vertical position and ultimate throttle.
This ability to ignite in mid-flight was one of the main problems in the development of this ship. Upon takeoff, the propellers (liquid methane and oxygen) settle to the bottom of the tanks, where the engine supply lines are located. But when going for a horizontal flight in free fall, the fuel will fluctuate and distribute throughout the entire tank. The pumps were lowered, so the reactors were unable to restart. Auxiliary tanks had to be invented, with the pressure of the gas acting as if it were a huge syringe, pumping fuel into the engines during the last seconds. The failure of one of these methane tanks was the cause of the failure of the last two flights.
A few weeks ago, NASA chose Starship As a moon lander, a mission planned a few years from now. But Mask’s dream is more ambitious. According to his vision, it is such a ship that one day will have to take astronauts to Mars and return them. This is why their engines consume methane, because it is a fuel that, in principle, could be synthesized from carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere.
On lunar flights, it wouldn’t be superfluous to perform a dangerous landing ballet. There is no atmosphere there, so the “spacecraft” will descend vertically, as hawks have done for years. Hence, it will be a much simpler maneuver and looks really elaborate
The irony is that on lunar flights it would not be superfluous to perform a dangerous ballet. There is no atmosphere there thus Starship It’ll go down vertically, like Falcon For years. Hence, it will be a much simpler maneuver and looks really elaborate.
On the other hand, the Starship The moon won’t return to Earth, so it won’t need protection tiles, either. The idea is that it is in orbit around the satellite to act as a Phrase Astronauts on their disembarkation and subsequent takeoff from the roof. The round trip to Earth will be made by capsules OrionDeveloped by NASA, but not tested yet.
Later on the program Sage A small orbital base is expected to be built Gate– which will orbit around our satellite. Both the Orion capsules and the landing craft will be attached to it, in this case Starship.
The Orion It will accept between four and six astronauts Gate A little bigger. However, the Musk ship, which only has to play the role of a modest “elevator” to descend and ascend to the moon, can carry dozens of passengers. Up to a hundred, in their Martian versions according to Musk’s early dreams. Not to mention its colossal load-bearing capacity and even its size: when docked at the orbiting station, it would be like a whale intruding with a zodiac.
Many are already wondering whether the spacecraft will not be obsolete by the entire US lunar program (capsule, missile, and even orbital station) before it takes off.
Raphael Clemente He is an industrial engineer and founder and first director of the Barcelona Science Museum (now known as CosmoCaixa). He is the author of “A Small Step for” [un] Man (Books Dome).