September 26, 2021

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The world's largest rocket is ready - but the Starship's control system is too heavy

The world’s largest rocket is ready – but the Starship’s control system is too heavy

The cheers and excitement is being felt at NASA, SpaceX, and space enthusiasts around the world these days after Elon Musk’s rocket factory on Friday, August 6th, was able to show the world the first images of the spaceship atop a Super Heavy rocket.

Altogether, the Starship system, as the rocket and spacecraft are called, is 120 meters high, but the total space rocket actually extends a full 145 meters high in the air, if you take into account the huge launch pad on which it is standing. Thus, it is the tallest rocket ever built (the Saturn rocket was 110m), and thus also a historic event that made NASA chiefs like Thomas Zurbuchen cheer on Twitter:

“I’ve been following this all along and I’m glad SpaceX has reached this milestone. I can’t wait to see it fly,” she said, among other things.

poured in to help

The Starship and Super Heavy pairing became possible when SpaceX sent messages to its employees across the United States asking them to come in their hundreds to Texas for help.

However, the Starship was not allowed to stay on top of the Super Heavy for a short time and has now been lifted to Earth. Both parts will undergo a series of tests and be ready to take off.

Musk: The goal is to get up in orbit without exploding

The main purpose of the first mission is actually not to go into orbit, and Musk doesn’t expect to see the rocket fly over 80 kilometers. The goal is first and foremost to test how the missile performs in the most difficult part of the launch phase, the so-called Max-q mode, where the dynamic effect is greatest.

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And in Elon Musk’s own words: “Our goal is to get on the right track without a blast” – said recently in an interview with Everyday Astronaut.


The Starship crane hoisted to the top of the Super Heavy rocket last Friday, and as you can see, work on the launch tower is almost complete. Pictured: Elon Musk

The spacecraft will orbit just before separating

The exact launch time is still uncertain, but SpaceX will likely wait for official permission to launch – and they’ll also need to work out the latest technical details.

SpaceX plans to launch 116 kilometers from the Boca Chica missile factory in Texas to an area in the Pacific Ocean, 100 kilometers northwest of the island of Kauai in the Hawaiian archipelago.

During launch, the Starship will be separated from the Super Heavy. This is done through a special maneuver, in which the missile – shortly before the MECO (main engine cut-off) – rotates the engines so that the ship begins to turn. Once the spin is in progress, the Super Heavy Starship is launched in the same way SpaceX uses to drop the roof of Starlink satellites.

The plan is for the Super Heavy to land safely again via an easy landing in the Gulf of Mexico, about 32 kilometers off the coast.

Steering fins that weigh three tons too much

Recently, the so-called “mesh fins” were installed on the Super Heavy rocket. Fins are used to control the rocket during landing, and each weighs a full three tons and will pop out during launch and landing. This is a change from the use of the in-flight guidance fins with the classic SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, as the fins fold along the length of the rocket during launch to reduce wind resistance.

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In addition to the weight of the fins, the weight of the batteries and Tesla Model 3 motors that are used with the control systems to move the fins must also be added.

So in general, it is a matter of a relatively heavy control system and impractical wind resistance during launch. Musk also announced – on Twitter – that the design of the guidance fins is inefficient and too heavy and should be changed in new versions of the Starship missile. As for the current rocket and Starship, it is by no means the only one that is being worked on.

So much to grab


Production of Raptor engines is in full swing, of which the Super Heavy rocket needs about 30. Initial engine tests are underway. But static testing is still needed with all motors running for a long time. Pictured: Elon Musk

When the Starship and the Super Heavy missile were connected, it was the fourth version of the missile and the 20th version of the Starship. Super Heavy No. 3 has already undergone countless tests, and construction of Super Heavy Edition 5 and Starship Edition 21 is also underway.

The pace of construction also means that SpaceX has begun a new assembly hall, called High Bay, for its Super Heavy rockets. Work is also underway on a 150-meter-high launch tower that will one day control the missile so that it can be used over and over again. However, the tower will not be used on the first flight.

The turret must have some kind of arm that can hold the exposed guidance fins on the missile. This is something Elon Musk has tweeted multiple times. The tower will be built on the so-called orbital launch site, where there is now intense activity.

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This article was first published in The engineer.