Summary: SpaceX is also starting to take action on plans to build floating launchpads for travel to the moon, Mars, and around Earth
Original author and publication date: Vanessa Bates Ramírez – June 19, 2020
Futurizonte Editor’s Note: There was a time when there were cars, but not roads or gas stations. There was a time when there were planes, but not airports. So, perhaps the time of the spaceports is now arriving.
From the article:
The coronavirus pandemic stopped a lot of things, but it hasn’t done much to slow down SpaceX and Elon Musk. The company sent two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station last month in the first-ever commercially-operated crewed mission, and it’s scheduled to launch its tenth group of Starlink satellites next week and a GPS satellite for the US military later this month.
As if all that weren’t enough, SpaceX is also starting to take action on plans to build floating launchpads for travel to the moon, Mars, and around Earth. Musk tweeted earlier this week about the company’s spaceport plans and a corresponding job posting for offshore operations engineers.
The offshore platforms would serve primarily to launch the company’s massive Starship rockets, which are being built and tested in Brownsville, a small city in southern Texas near the border with Mexico. The first three Starship prototypes were destroyed during testing, and most recently, the fourth prototype exploded during an engine test late last month.
Not to be deterred, Musk is forging ahead on the floating launchpads despite these setbacks; he did say last year that Starship would likely go through at least 20 design iterations before being ready to launch.
At 394 feet tall by 30 feet wide, the rocket outsizes all those previously used in spaceflight, including the Saturn V used in NASA’s Apollo program. But the most impressive feature of the Starship, which consists of a 160-foot spacecraft plus a 230-foot booster, is that it’s being designed to be fully reusable. Last November Musk estimated Starship launches could cost as little as $2 million, which is about 1 percent of what NASA launch costs average.
Given that there’s still much work to be done before a launch actually happens, that estimate could end up being wildly inaccurate; but even if it’s multiplied by a factor of 10, the cost will still be dramatically low compared to its predecessors.
So why the need to launch from a platform floating on water instead of using good old solid land?
SpaceX hasn’t given details about its motivation for this seemingly complex and expensive undertaking, other than a reply tweet in which Musk said the launches and landings had to be “far enough away so as not to bother heavily populated areas.” The company’s plan to eventually carry out up to three launches and landings per day would certainly necessitate putting some serious distance between the launch site and people; most of us could only handle about one sonic boom a month, if that.