For Elon Musk, Starship is really a Mars ship. He envisions a fleet of Starships carrying settlers to the Red Planet in the coming years.
And for that eventual purpose, Starship, under development by Mr. Musk’s SpaceX rocket company, has to be big. Stacked on top of what SpaceX calls a Super Heavy booster, the Starship rocket system will be, by pretty much every measure, the biggest and most powerful ever.
It is the tallest rocket ever built — 394 feet tall, or nearly 90 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty including the pedestal.
And it has the most engines ever in a rocket booster: The Super Heavy has 33 of SpaceX’s powerful Raptor engines sticking out of its bottom. The 33 engines that will lift Starship off the launching pad in South Texas will generate 16 million pounds of thrust at full throttle. NASA’s new Space Launch System rocket, which made its first flight in November, holds the current record for the maximum thrust of a rocket: 8.8 million pounds. The maximum thrust of the Saturn V rocket that took NASA astronauts to the moon during the Apollo program was relatively paltry: 7.6 million pounds.
An even more transformative feature of Starship is that it is designed to be entirely reusable. The Super Heavy booster is to land much like those for SpaceX’s smaller Falcon 9 rockets, and Starship will be able to return from space belly-flopping through the atmosphere like a sky diver before pivoting to a vertical position for landing.
That means all of the really expensive pieces — like the 33 Raptor engines in the Super Heavy booster and six additional Raptors in Starship itself — will be used over and over instead of thrown away into the ocean after one flight.
That has the potential to cut the cost of sending payloads into orbit — to less than $10 million to take 100 tons to space, Mr. Musk has said.
Starship and Super Heavy are shiny because SpaceX made them out of stainless steel, which is cheaper than using other materials like carbon composites. But one side of Starship is coated in black tiles to protect the spacecraft from the extreme heat that it will encounter if it gets far enough in its flight to re-enter the atmosphere.