SpaceX prepares next Starship prototype; releases Starship user manual

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From SpaceX's first user manual for Starship

Capitalism in space: Even as SpaceX has begun preparing its third Starship prototype for new testing, it has also released a first user manual for the rocket, outlining its proposed capabilities and potential uses by customers.

From the first link:

The next round of testing is anticipated to begin this week with cryogenic proof testing. These tests will see the vehicle filled with liquid nitrogen at cryogenic temperatures and flight pressures. Prior Starship test vehicles have had their campaigns cut short by failed cryogenic testing, including the last flight vehicle SpaceX rolled to the Boca Chica launch pad, Starship SN1.

If all goes right, they hope to begin short flight tests with this prototype, moving to longer and higher flights with the next.

The user manual [pdf] is mostly a short description of what they hope they will be able to accomplish with Starship. It notes that they will build both a cargo and manned variety, and that both will be available for point-to-point transportation on Earth. It also notes:

Starship has the capability to transport satellites, payloads, crew, and cargo to a variety of orbits and
Earth, Lunar, or Martian landing sites. Potential Starship customers can use this guide as a resource for preliminary payload accommodations information.This is the initial release of the Starship Users Guide and it will be updated frequently in response to customer feedback.

I guarantee that much of what is written and drawn here, such as the illustration above, will change significantly as development proceeds.



  • Lee S

    Reading the pdf… It assured me we are actually living in the future… It’s perhaps a bit premature to announce Mars landings in the “guide”, but I have fewer doubts that SpaceX will be there before NASA or the ESA . ( The ESA bit was a joke…)

  • Marek

    Hopefully its not going to be used for this (scene from “You Only Live Twice”) .. haha

  • Scott M.

    Marek, that was my thought too when I saw the ‘chompy’ cargo version. That and I also heard the late great Steve Irwin’s voice saying what a beauty it was. :)

  • MDN

    Time for the TMT consortium to cancel construction and shift over to an 8m space telescope. And if they started now I’d give even odds they’d beat the JWST to orbit, cost a 20th the price, work better, last longer, and deliver more and better science value. I’d love to see Webb fly, but I have very little confidence the bureaucratic NASA of today can pull the mission off any more.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Lee S,

    The “ESA bit” might have been a joke, but it’s only millimetrically more so than the “NASA bit.” Where manned missions to Mars are concerned, ESA and NASA are close to equal in being what the Texans say of cowboy poseurs – “all hat and no cattle.”


    Elon has joked from time to time that he really ought to get himself a Persian cat.


    Unless a single cargo version of Starship incorporates the tilt-table payload mount with the big “clamshell” door on one side and the rectangular “freight elevator” door on the other side – which I don’t think will be the case owing to weight and volume considerations – it looks as though there will be at least two cargo versions of Starship; one for on-orbit delivery/pick-up and the other optimized for delivery to/pick-up from planetary surfaces. There is also mention of a “stretch” version of the on-orbit delivery/pick-up cargo configuration that can accommodate payloads up to 22 meters in length. So that looks to be at least three versions just for cargo.

    Of course there will also be a tanker version to implement the on-orbit refueling mentioned in the payload mass section of the Guide. So that’s a fourth version.

    The “cruise ship” passenger-carrying version would be version number five. But I suspect there will be a number of different passenger-capable versions in practice. If there is ever a terrestrial point-to-point passenger version, for example, it isn’t likely to have staterooms, galleys or radiation shelters. Perhaps this point-to-point version would also be suitable for short orbital tourism jaunts of one, two or three orbits when flown atop Super Heavy instead of stand-alone. The “cruise ship” version mentioned in the guide might be able to be pretty much the same for lunar and martian use in the early going, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see some destination-specific versions evolve either.

    In all, I think this initial 6-page document is likely to grow into quite the toe-breaking tome over the next few years.

  • Dick Eagleson: As for the many versions and engineering challenges for making Starship into both a cargo and passenger ship, doing many different things, either point-to-point on Earth or going to the Moon or Mars, I refer to my piece yesterday about the difficulties engineers face simply operating a camera reliably in Mars orbit. As I concluded,

    This story, one of many faced every day by space engineers, illustrates the difficulties of building and operating a spacecraft millions of miles away. In concept the technology might be relatively simple. In practice the engineering is incredibly complex, and great care must be done not only to keep things running properly, but also to make sure the data obtained is understandable and reliable.

    Think about this the next time you hear someone nonchalantly wax poetic about how they are only a few years away from mining the Moon and the asteroids or colonizing Mars. It will help you separate the wheat from the chaff.

    We will eventually do all these things, but we won’t do it by underestimating the challenge.

    Starship is very refreshing, and I have a great deal of faith SpaceX will succeed in building it. However, it will not be an easy task, and they have not even begun to figure out how to make it practical to use.

  • pzatchok

    Do they really need a second stage to get something into earth orbit?

    I can see them making something that looks and acts just like the Falcon 9. Just bigger. Even to the point of having a cargo area wider than the rocket body like the F9.
    A re-usable second stage with clam shell doors that do come off to use more fuel for the payload and clam shell doors that reclose and stay attached for lighter payloads.

  • Edward

    pzatchok asked: “Do they really need a second stage to get something into earth orbit?

    Theoretically, no. However building a single stage to orbit (SSTO) launch vehicle depends very much on the performance of the engines. The Raptor engine should be able to do this.

    The basic problem with SSTO is the very limited payload capability, generally coming out at around 1% of the rocket’s initial mass. If Starship can do this, then it may well be worth doing for tourist runs to low Earth orbit for a couple of orbits.

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