Mayank Maurya

Writer

Standing in front of a gleaming stainless-steel Starship prototype, Elon Musk announced to the world: “Space travel is going to be like air travel”.

Standing in front of a gleaming stainless-steel Starship prototype, Elon Musk announced to the world: “Space travel is going to be like air travel”. 

That was in September. A few months on, SpaceX went through testing stages and several high profile individuals have already paid to be the first passengers to board the enormous rocket.

Elon Musk, the multi-billionaire founder of SpaceX, said that he aims for the Starship to begin commercial launch by 2021. In his presentation he said that his mission — which aims to use rapidly reusable rockets to travel to the Moon, Mars and beyond — will be a “critical breakthrough to make life multi-planetary”. 

This new mission is based on the previous testing of their Grasshopper and Falcon 9 reusable development vehicles. The Starship is 118 metres long and nine metres in diameter, with a heavy booster capable of carrying 100 people. It was planned to be launched 65,000 feet and then land again, but during a launch test on 19 November, the MK1 prototype experienced a failure. No one was injured, but the bulkhead flew hundreds of feet into the air, releasing cryogenic liquid into the air. SpaceX representatives said in a statement that this outcome “was not completely unexpected” since the purpose of the test was to push the systems to their limit. Their policy is fail-fast and fix, and currently it seems that this accident won’t affect the Starship mission schedule.

The Starship was built out of a unique choice of stainless steel, due to its light and reusable construction, high-temperature resistance, high melting point (which is required for re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere), increase in strength about double at low or cryogenic temperature compared to carbon fibre, and its low cost. The Starship spacecraft excluding booster has six engines – three sea-level engines and three vacuum engines for the mission. The four fins in the Starship design, two in the front and two at the rear, help in maintaining balance. 

The prospect of “being a space-going civilisation and being out there among the stars makes me and many people glad to be alive,'' said Musk at the event. SpaceX has said that Starship “will be the most powerful rocket in history, capable of carrying humans to the Moon, Mars, and beyond”, and will “provide affordable delivery of significant quantities of cargo and people, essential for building Moon bases and Mars cities”.

This hints at the new space age which may be in our near future. This mission will open new doors of advancement to the human race. It may also trigger an increase in space tourism, which could cause serious problems for the environment. Studies done by Teams at Aerospace Corporation in Los Angeles, California, U.S.A., and at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, U.S.A. show that an increase in space tourism could result in a rise in temperature at polar regions, resulting in an increase in sea levels around the world.

But as Musk said, “you can either remain confined to yourself or be the space exploring civilisation”. While it is clear that the mission could have some negative consequences, it seems that space exploration is a necessary step in the evolution of mankind.



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