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SpaceX’s Starship gets Air Force point-to-point cargo study contract

Capitalism in space: The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has signed a $102 million five year contract with SpaceX to study the practicality of using its Starship spacecraft as a method for transporting large cargo point-to-point on Earth.

[Program manager Greg] Spanjers said the SpaceX work is focused in four areas: collecting data from commercial orbital launches and landings; exploring cargo bay designs compatible with U.S. Transportation Command containers [TRANSCOM] and support rapid loading and unloading; researching landing systems that can operate on a variety of terrain; and demonstrating the heavy cargo launch and landing process.

The emphasis on landing options and interoperability with TRANSCOM containers and loading processes is an important element of the project, Spanjers noted, because the department’s vision for how the point-to-point capability could be used is broader than just the commercial business case. While companies are primarily interested in delivering cargo to and from established sites, the military wants to deliver supplies and humanitarian aid to locations that may not have spaceports.

This contract is in many ways similar to NASA’s manned Starship lunar lander contract. Both provide SpaceX some cash for developing a different version of Starship, even as the bulk of development money for building Starship comes from the private investment community.

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From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
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  • Ray Van Dune

    “…the military wants to deliver … to locations that may not have spaceports – any more.”

    Just to clarify. ?

  • William

    Delivering troops and tanks to anywhere in the world in 90 minutes. I guess we don’t need our fleet of transport ships

  • Questioner

    It appears that the Starship’s booster will hover for up to 10 seconds to aid its legless landing, making it easier to be captured by the launch tower’s arms. No “suicide landing” like Falcon 9’s booster. SpaceX has released a new simulation of this sequence.

    “SpaceX finally revealed its Starship & Super Heavy landing trick!”

  • David M. Cook

    The trouble with landing these large VTVL vehicles in remote locations is how to transport them back home after the battle is over. It‘s easier to land on an unprepared site than to take off from one. Go look up the mid-sixties proposals for the giant ROMBUS & others.

  • Questioner

    David M. Cook:

    STARSHIP Ep16 – Air Force Point-To-Point Delivery

  • Col Beausabre

    “Delivering troops and tanks to anywhere in the world in 90 minutes. I guess we don’t need our fleet of transport ships”

    You don’t know the daily tonnage in supplies it takes to support one deployed troop. It ain’t gonna be done by aircraft or rockets. As a combat arms officer I only had a vague appreciation of the numbers until I attended the Command and General Staff College. It’s beyond huge

    “Amateurs discuss tactics, professionals study logistics”

  • Questioner

    Apparently this an application for a disposable version of Starship! Well, the military can apparently afford it.

  • Edward

    Col Beausabre,
    Even in Sun Tsu’s time, logistics grew more difficult with increasing distance from home.

    Poverty of the state exchequer causes an army to be maintained by contributions from a distance. Contributing to maintain an army at a distance causes people to be impoverished.

    The ability to take 100 tons to a remote site may be worth the cost. While a disaster area, such as Tonga, is difficult to reach with aircraft and ships, an alternate delivery system is desirable. An aircraft needs ash-free airspace and a score or so acres of ash-free runway, but Starship may be able to land through ash onto a 1/10th acre landing spot. Is it easier and faster to clear 20 acres or 1/10th acre? Are 100 tons of emergency supplies worth temporarily taking a Starship out of service for a trip with a delayed return?

  • Edward: We are also forgetting the Starship lunar lander, which will be designed to take off from an unprepared landing site. That engineering could be applied to point-to-point cargo transport on Earth so that the Starship cargo carrier can still be used after delivery of its cargo to a remote and undeveloped area.

  • Questioner


    this really takes the biscuit. You are also not above defending the biggest piece of nonsense, and this is it.

  • Edward

    I’m not sure why you think point to point is nonsense. It certainly is not as nonsensical as your “Common Sense Skeptic,” whose video lacks common sense.

  • pzatchok

    This could be done with solid rockets and parachutes. Just like the Russians but bigger.

  • wayne

    I’ll drop this in here….

    “This Is Why Elon Musk Should Fund Astronomy!”
    Lex Fridman / Brian Keating (January 2022)

  • Star Bird

    Here some the Kobiasha Muru with whole load on Test Kits and a months worth of Cup Cakes

  • Edward

    After all, Questioner, your supposed common sense video shows that aerospace engineers figured out how to lift pallets into an airplane, roll them into position, and secure them in place, however it also claims that aerospace engineers find it just too hard to do the same for a rocket. “Ooh, it’s just too complicated to do on a rocket what we did on the plane, and we certainly can’t figure out how to make our containers conform to the shape of the rocket like we did for our airplane containers. We are only smart when we work on airplanes, but we get real stoopid when it comes to rockets. It is a good thing that rockit science is so easy, ’cause we steely-eyed rocket men don’t got da brains for no hard stuffs.”

    How is it better to scatter the heavy cargo pallets all over acres of field by dumping it from the plane by parachute than to place the cargo right next to a roadway where the trucks can drive right up and receive the cargo? This “common sense skeptic” may be skeptical, but he lacks the common sense you and he think he has.

  • Questioner

    Adam Something. “Elon Musk’s Starship Earth to Earth: We Have Reached Peak Idiocy”!

    “Starship Earth to Earth is proof that the hyper-online revolutionary techbro culture has indeed peaked. It’s all downhill from here.
    Also at 1:20 they forgot to add stairs to the ship’s door, lol.”

  • Edward

    Can’t you find any intelligent arguments against point to point? Bringing up the Wright Brothers is an argument against Elon Musk because they succeeded where other inventors failed? That is stupid logic. The Wright Brothers showed that what other people failed to do was still a good idea that, if done scientifically (mathematics, wind tunnels, experimentation, test), could be made to work. The Wright Brothers is an argument against Adam Something.

    Adam’s arguments also apply as arguments against air travel. Health problems apply to air travel, and air travel uses fossil fuels, too, but what if someone creates a hydrogen point to point rocket? Is it OK then? His fossil fuel argument was an argument to go back to sailing ships, horse drawn carriages, and walking.

    Noise? Airplanes and trains are loud, too, all day long, and have you ever heard a ship’s horn when it is about to sail? Loud. How about those incessant fog horns. Don’t get me started on the neighbor who comes home on his Harley in the middle of the night. Train stations and airports tended to be located away from the center of town, only for town to grow around them, because the convenience was worth the noise. I live seven miles from the local airport, yet still hear the roar of airplanes taking off starting at 6AM, when the curfew lifts. Airports are so noisy that there is a curfew on arrivals and departures.

    6-1/2 hours to get on a rocket? Apollo astronauts were in orbit in less time after waking up. Adam is foolish. How about those long lines at airport security? How many hours before scheduled takeoff are we supposed to arrive at the airport? If traveling farther than the 3,000 miles (5,000 km) across the Atlantic, then even more time is saved, and that may be the real market for point to point travel.

    Safety? It took a century for air travel to become as safe as it is, so for Adam to demand that spaceflight be instantaneously safe is ludicrous. Does Adam travel in a car, enter his bathroom or kitchen, or get out of bed? Stay away from doctors, as many people die while under medical care (if Adam can be ludicrous, then you have to allow me to be, too); cars, bathrooms, kitchens, and living are not becoming safer at much of a rate. What a genius; what a visionary; what a fool, that Adam Something.

    What if it isn’t passengers but precious cargo that is to go from point to point in a short amount of time. Various cargo companies make their living off delivering “when it absolutely, positively has to get there overnight.” Soon they may have a chance of delivering it when it absolutely, positively has to get there yesterday (Asia to the Americas).

    Adam’s biggest problem is that all his arguments can be applied against flying to space at all.

    His second biggest problem is that he advocates against attempting progress, merely because he feels it is not a good idea. If SpaceX chooses to spend its own money on point to point transport, then it isn’t any tax money from his wallet, so he really doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Another big problem is that people had said that reusable first stages were impossible or impractical, yet here we are, reusing booster stages with only a few weeks turnaround time and with plans for faster turnaround on newer designs; sometimes what seems impossible or impractical can be made profitable. We humans are smart, and some are smarter than others. Adam does not fall into the latter category.

    Adam’s thinking is much more like those inventors who had failed where the Wright Brothers succeeded.

    Point to point is not scientism, it is business. Some business ideas work, some don’t. We don’t know which is which until we try, and if it works then there was enough demand for it to make it a reasonable idea to implement. As Adam pointed out, it took a lot of failures before the final success of airplanes.

    “And, well, that just makes me mad.” Adam doesn’t follow the principles of scientism but instead follows emotionalism, which is bad. We all should have the freedom and liberty to try new things, even if people like Adam feel they are not good ideas. The new things may make the world a better place, or they may not. At least we tried and learned.

    Adam spent 12 minutes failing to show us why point to point was an “excruciating stupid idea.” He made a large number of assumptions, which means that his arguments were not well thought out, mostly just off the cuff. Good work Adam, and good work Questioner for not vetting your examples. That video is twelve minutes that I will never get back.

  • Questioner


    Please defend also Musk’s Las Vegas loop!

  • Edward

    Why? Not only do I not care, but I also don’t know what it is and don’t have the inclination to spend the time or effort to look it up.

    However, if Musk or anyone else wants to build a loop in Las Vegas, and Las Vegas doesn’t mind, or even wants it, who are we to say otherwise?

  • Questioner

    You ask: Why? To demonstrate here for everyone how you sophistically defend the obviously craziest stuff just because it comes from Elon Musk.

  • Edward

    To demonstrate here for everyone how you sophistically defend the obviously craziest stuff just because it comes from Elon Musk.

    Except that I don’t, and you are foolish to think so. You may feel that things are crazy stuff, but perhaps others don’t. Isn’t it a kind of hubris for you to feel that no one but you could be right about anything? What you think is crazy could be what other people want. For example, you have expressed the feeling that point to point rocket transport is “Peak Idiocy,” but after pondering the idea for a few months the Air Force has expressed interest in it. You are right but all of them are wrong?

    You seem to make a lot of assumptions, rather than ask the right questions to learn the reality. What if I think that a loop in Las Vegas would be a crazy idea? Or, did that possibility never occur to you?

  • Edward

    You see, Questioner, you argue using emotion rather than using fact. It is why you refuse to argue against the facts that others present to you. How noteworthy that you have projected your own sophistic methods onto others. Funny how it is OK for you to do it but you complain when you think it is used against you. Rather than argue the facts, you argue ad hominem. Every time you do that, everyone here knows that you have lost your argument.

    My advice to you is to change from avoiding facts to arguing by using facts. Further, you may do better if you think about your position before you opine. If you argue from emotions, such as wanting the world to be different than it is, then you start from weakness. I often choose my battles by following Sun Tsu and winning before beginning the argument, often choosing to argue an emotional position with facts. The problem with that is that emotional people reject fact, but arguing emotion with emotion does not work, either.

    If you are going to question, then you have to be open to accepting the answer. You may want to work on that, too, otherwise you are merely being a troll.

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