The Starship rocket has been quite in the news lately. Thus I invite you to read this short article about the famous rocket. What is it? How does it work? What are its purposes? And why is it on the news right now? 

First things first, Starship was created by Elon Musk and Co.; basically, SpaceX, though long gone are the days when SpaceX was an (almost) one-person job (it was never a one-person job, but the team has changed a lot since then). Now the 300-or-so team of SpaceX is working on their biggest challenge yet: building the biggest and most powerful working rocket ever seen on Earth. 

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Credits: SpaceX

They seem to be succeeding, but there’s still a long way until there. Well, not that long, as the Starship prototypes are ready, and more tests have been done over the course of the last year and at the beginning of this year. Of those, we will discuss a little bit about Starship SN8, a test done on December 9th of last year, and Starship SN9, a test that took place on February 2nd, 2021. Of course, we shall discuss what’s happening next.

What is the Starship rocket?

The project was mentioned publicly by Elon Musk (SpaceX CEO) in 2012. However, 2016 was the year Musk unveiled the first plans and designs at the International Astronautical Congress. What was the purpose of Starship? Obviously, it all connects with Elon Musk’s life dream, getting to Mars. Starship is actually split into two parts: the actual Starship, which is the spacecraft part, basically, and Super Heavy, which is the rocket part (that is a weird way of putting it since both of them are rockets, so let’s call it the huge booster). 

SpaceX Starship
Credits: SpaceXLounge

Thinking about the Starship spacecraft, it actually resembles what my dream rocket would look like, a rocket constructed in my imagination from hundreds of science-fiction movies, books, or just stories I’ve been through. It has a great-looking shape, with some really big landing fins, which is rather unusual for a rocket (but we’re in no hurry, wait until you see how it lands back on Earth). Starship has a huge capacity for transporting things, whatever those could be, and it would definitely be suitable for the long-awaited trip to Mars. The spacecraft is 50 m tall.

Turning to the actual booster, the Super Heavy, it measures 70 m in height. It will be powered by 28 Raptor engines (also a SpaceX product), but to be honest, the number has been changed many times, so it is susceptible to further changes or improvements. The whole Raptor thing (the engine) is innovative, and its design is made better all the time to reduce the amount of propellant that is wasted. The Super Heavy launcher is more powerful than the 60s-monster Saturn V, the rocket which put humans on the Moon. 

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Why is Starship so cool? Well, the most important thing of all, it is efficient. It comes back. A lot of money is saved. It really is the future. It is reusable. Oh yes, it’s all coming together. 

The whole Starship (rocket and spacecraft) will be, you guessed, 120 m tall, while Saturn V measured 111 m. Not much of a difference, but enough for us to say that Starship is superior in every aspect. 

SN-8, SN-9, and the “belly-flop”

SpaceX has been doing a lot of testing lately, and two of those tests became viral because of their outcome and the high-class technology they showcased. I will also use the opportunity to discuss the landing of the Starship—the spacecraft part.

So, what is it supposed to do? I mentioned it is something very high-class. And pretty innovative. And it surely has never been done before. 

When the spacecraft is ready to enter the atmosphere, it does so at an angle of 60 degrees. After that, it turns itself in a horizontal position, which Musk called a “belly-flop”. Essentially, what that is, is a type of free-fall where one uses the atmosphere to gradually slow its speed. 

Starship: The Most Powerful Rocket That Might Take Us To Mars Some Day. 3
Credits: Skydive Orange

It is exactly like that, except it is with a rocket. And instead of using its four arms and legs to control the falling, the spacecraft uses its four flaps. It is incredible

SpaceX Starship
Starship spacecraft (Credits: Thomasnet)

After falling horizontally, the spacecraft uses some small engines to flip once again, this time in vertical position, ready to land. 

Now all these things are tough to do, but somehow SpaceX made it. Well, almost made it. The SN-8 and SN-9 tests (December 9th and February 2nd, respectively) failed during the last part. They both exploded at the contact with the surface because of the contact’s wrong angle. 

Still, the tests were incredible showcases of science-fiction technology, and the bare fact that the belly-flop was well-handled is incredible. The fact that maneuvers like this can be controlled is an achievement for the whole of Earth. 

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What next?

SpaceX will test the spacecraft more, with another attempt very soon, possibly this or next month. Elon Musk said that he would give a 60% success chance for this landing. 

The beautiful thing was that even before the SN-9 launch, SN-10 was prepared and sitting at the landing site. It was a beautiful, beautiful image to see both huge spacecraft at the launching site, and, of course, I’d say it was a very science-fiction thing to imagine 10 years ago. 

It still makes me tingle.

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