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Pentagon in discussions with SpaceX about buying a Starship outright for military missions

The Pentagon is negotiating with SpaceX the idea that in certain cases where it deems it legally necessary it will buy outright full ownership of a SpaceX Starship/Superheavy launch rocket in order to fly some military missions.

The idea is similar to how the Air Force moves cargo. At times, the service contracts with private carriers to deliver cargo, but for certain critical missions it uses service “gray tail” aircraft. In this hypothetical case, the military could take a Starship off the line for a specific mission and return it to SpaceX after it is complete.

I suspect such situations involve very risky wartime missions that carry liabilities that a private company cannot accept. The military takes over ownership, relieving the company of risk, and then returns ownership afterward. Such a plan requires the company to agree to it, and the military to pay extra for these temporary rights. According to the article at the link, SpaceX is presently exploring its options.

That the Pentagon is discussing this with SpaceX at all tells us that it sees Starship/Superheavy as having a lot of value. It wants to buy its services, one way or the other.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

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  • Calvin Dodge

    If they use Starship to deliver people or supplies near a battle zone, getting it back will be challenging.

  • Paul Revere

    Will the Pentagon be able to put pressure on the FAA to stop dragging its feet? According to this article, SpaceX expects approval of the third test launch in February. What say you, Mr. Zimmerman?

    “SpaceX’s massive, reusable Starship rocket made two test flights in 2023, the first in April and a second in November, and company representatives now say the third such mission could come as soon as February 2024.

    “During a media teleconference on Tuesday (Jan. 9) that was held to discuss updates to NASA’s Artemis moon program, SpaceX Vice President of Customer Operations and Integration Jessica Jensen said the company is already seeking approval for Starship’s third flight. “From a hardware readiness perspective, we are targeting to be ready in January. And then, from an FAA licensing perspective, we’re getting a license for flight three,” Jensen said, referring to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration

  • Paul Revere: I don’t think you are aware, but this quote from Jensen was posted here by me three weeks ago, with commentary. See: SpaceX: Ready to launch Starship/Superheavy by end of January but it won’t. As I commented then:

    SpaceX might be confident the FAA will give the okay for a launch in late February, but no one should be sanguine about this belief. Bureaucrats when required to dot every “i” and cross every “t”, as it appears the Biden administration is demanding, can be infuriatingly slow in doing so, even if they wish to hurry.

    This news confirms my prediction from November that the launch will happen in the February to April time frame. It also leaves me entirely confident that my refined December prediction of a launch no earlier than March will be right.

  • Brewingfrog

    Right now is the optimal time for launching from Boca Chica. Winter/Spring in Deep South Texas has many days where the winds are calm, and sometimes even blowing out of the WNW, perfect for the launch setup SpaceX has down there. But, as usual, the Bureaucrats are killing progress and innovation.

    “Use well the days!”

  • Cloudy

    A rocket and its launch infrastructure are joined at the hip. They are all part of the same specialized system that only the launching organization can run. For the most part, your infrastructure cannot support my rocket and my infrastructure cannot support yours. It’s not like an airplane and an airport. It’s more like a skyscraper and it’s steel frame. You cannot really separate the two. SpaceX may temporarily avoid ownership of the vehicle itself, but that may not mean much if it runs the vast bulk of the operation. Does anyone here know anything about the relevant law?

  • Jeff Wright

    At some point, inland launch facilities need be had.

    Area 51 is perfect… protestors shot on sight.

  • pzatchok

    The only thing I can see the military needing starship for would be a space mission like attacking and taking a space station or moon base.

    Everything else can be done faster and cheaper with what we have now.

  • Jeff Wright

    Carriers take a week to get to some areas —that’s telegraphing your punches

  • pawn

    One the government has one then everyone will have the plans.

    Pretty sure the Chinese are very interested. Our current military would probably accommodate them.

  • pzatchok


    Not all transport could be done by carrier alone.
    In gulf one a lot of the transportation was done by commercial carriers. Then by military carriers for the last leg into the hot zones.

    Plus we have established and allied bases all over the world now. Hours from anyplace on the planet.

    Using a starship to put troops or cargo into any hot zone is the same as just burning it when it gets unloaded. Because that is what will happen so our enemies do not get a chance to copy any of its technology. Going from safe zone to safe zone can now be done with what planes and ships we have now.

    What vehicle will carry it back to the coast so a ship can carry it back to Texas? Out of a hot zone.

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