BFR (rocket)

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1st stage: Super Heavy
2nd stage: Starship
The BFR launch vehicle, with its Super Heavy first stage and Starship upper stage, during flight to orbit
Artists' impression of Starship/Superheavy during ascent
Country of originUnited States
Project costUS$2-3 billion, estimated[3]
Diameter9 m (30 ft)
Mass5,000,000 kg (11,000,000 lb) (with max payload)[4]
Payload to LEO150,000+ kg (330,000+ lb)
(fully reusable)[5]
Payload to Moon100,000+ kg (220,000+ lb)
(with orbital refueling)[6]
Payload to Mars100,000+ kg (220,000+ lb)
(with orbital refueling)[6]
Launch history
StatusIn development[7]
Launch sites
First flight2020 (planned)[9]
First stage – Super Heavy[10]
Length68 m (223 ft)[11]
Diameter9 m (30 ft)
Empty mass230,000 kg (510,000 lb) (estimated) [4]
Gross mass3,530,000 kg (7,780,000 lb) [4][12]
Engines24 to 37 Raptor [11]
Thrust72 MN (16,000,000 lbf)[13]
Specific impulse330 s (3.2 km/s)[1]
FuelSubcooled CH
 / LOX
Second stage – Starship[10]
Length50 m (160 ft)[5]
Diameter9 m (30 ft)
Empty mass120,000 kg (260,000 lb) [4]
Gross mass1,320,000 kg (2,910,000 lb) [4][12]
Propellant mass
  • 260,000 kg (570,000 lb) CH
  • 940,000 kg (2,070,000 lb) LOX
Specific impulse380 s (3.7 km/s) (vacuum)[2]
FuelSubcooled CH
 / LOX

Big Falcon Rocket (officially shortened to BFR) was the code name[1] for SpaceX's project to develop a privately funded, fully reusable launch vehicle and spacecraft system. It is to be a two-stage-to-orbit launch vehicle, classed as super-heavy-lift since the payload capacity to Earth orbit is cited as being at least 150,000 kg (330,000 lb). In November 2018 the second stage and ship was renamed to Starship, while the first stage was renamed "Super Heavy." As of September 2019, the combined Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket system is officially, collectively referred to as "Starship".[13] The overall space vehicle architecture includes both launch vehicle and spacecraft, as well as ground infrastructure for rapid launch and relaunch, and unusually for historic spacecraft systems, propellant transfer in space. The first orbital flight will occur no earlier than 2020,[9] with a flight around the Moon slated for 2023.[15]

The launch vehicle design is dependent on the concurrent development work by SpaceX on the Raptor rocket engine, burning cryogenic liquid oxygen (LOX) and liquid methane propellants, which will be used for both stages of the combined launch vehicle. Development of Raptor began in 2012,[16] leading to engine testing which began in 2016, flight testing in July 2019[17], and a full-up orbital flight test as early as 2020.[18][19]

The system is intended to completely replace SpaceX's existing space transportation hardware (the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles and the Dragon spacecraft), initially aiming at the Earth-orbit launch market, but explicitly adding substantial capability to support long-duration spaceflight in the cislunar and Mars transport flight environments.[1][20][21]


The development of the BFR started in 2012, when in March, news accounts asserted that a Raptor upper-stage engine had begun development, although no details were released at that time.[16] In October 2012, Musk publicly stated a high-level plan to build a second reusable rocket system with capabilities substantially beyond the Falcon 9/Falcon Heavy launch vehicles on which SpaceX had by then spent several billion US dollars.[22] This new vehicle was to be "an evolution of SpaceX's Falcon 9 booster ... 'much bigger'." But he indicated that SpaceX would not be speaking publicly about it until 2013.[23][24]

In June 2013, Musk stated that he intended to hold off any potential initial public offering of SpaceX shares on the stock market until after the "Mars Colonial Transporter is flying regularly."[25][26]

In August 2014, media sources speculated that the initial flight test of the Raptor-driven super-heavy launch vehicle could occur as early as 2020, in order to fully test the engines under orbital spaceflight conditions; however, any colonization effort was reported to be "deep into the future".[27][28]

In early 2015, Musk said that he hoped to release details in late 2015 of the "completely new architecture" for the system that would enable the colonization of Mars. Those plans were delayed,[29][30][31][32][33] following a launch failure in June 2015 until after SpaceX returned to flight in late December 2015.[20]

In September 2016, Musk unveiled substantial details of a SpaceX design concept for a much larger transport vehicle, 12 meters (39 ft) in diameter, the ITS launch vehicle, aimed specifically at the interplanetary transport use case. At the time, the system architecture was referred to as the "Interplanetary Transport System" (ITS)[34][20] and included detailed discussion of the overall SpaceX Mars transportation mission architecture. This included the launch vehicle (the very large size 12-meter core diameter, vehicle construction material, number and type of engines, thrust, cargo and passenger payload capabilities) but also on-orbit propellant-tanker refills, representative transit times, and various portions of the Mars-side and Earth-side infrastructure that SpaceX would require to support a set of three flight vehicles. The three distinct vehicles that made up the 2016 ITS launch vehicle concept were the:[1][35]

  • ITS booster, the first-stage of the launch vehicle
  • ITS spaceship, a second-stage and long-duration in-space spacecraft
  • ITS tanker, an alternative second-stage designed to carry more propellant for refueling other vehicles in space

The talk included presentation of a larger systemic vision, aspirationally hoping that other interested parties (whether companies, individuals, or governments) would utilize the new and significantly lower-cost transport infrastructure that SpaceX hoped to build in order enable a sustainable human civilization on Mars.[20][36][37]

In July 2017, Musk indicated that the architecture had "evolved quite a bit" since the 2016 articulation of the Mars architecture. A key driver of the updated architecture was to be making the system useful for substantial Earth-orbit and cislunar launches so that the system might pay for itself, in part, through economic spaceflight activities in the near-Earth space zone.[38] In September 2018, a less drastic redesign was announced, stretching the second stage slightly and adding radially-steerable forward canards and aft fins, used for pitch control in a new reentry profile resembling a descending skydiver. The aft fins act as landing legs, with a third leg on the top that looks identical but serves no aerodynamic purpose.[2]


In September 2017, at the 68th annual meeting of the International Astronautical Congress, SpaceX unveiled the updated vehicle design. Musk said "we are searching for the right name, but the code name, at least, is BFR."[1] The 2017 revised design concept was a 9-meter (30 ft) diameter carbon-composite technology set of vehicles, using methalox-fueled Raptor rocket engine technology directed initially at the Earth-orbit and cislunar environment, later, being used for flights to Mars.[39][40]

2017 BFR design, carbon-composite construction with a delta wing on the reusable second stage.

The 2017 design was cylindrical and included a small delta wing at the rear end which included a split flap for pitch and roll control. The delta wing and split flaps were said to be needed to expand the flight envelope to allow the ship to land in a variety of atmospheric densities (none, thin, or heavy atmosphere) with a wide range of payloads (small, heavy, or none) in the nose of the ship.[39][1]:18:05–19:25 Three versions of the ship were described: BFS cargo, BFS tanker, and BFS crew. The cargo version will be used to launch satellites to low Earth orbit—delivering "significantly more satellites at a time than anything that has been done before"[39]—as well as for cargo transport to the Moon and Mars. After retanking in a high-elliptic Earth orbit the spaceship is being designed to be able to land on the Moon and return to Earth without further refueling.[39][1]:31:50

Additionally, the BFR system was shown to theoretically have the capability to carry passengers and/or cargo in rapid Earth-to-Earth transport, delivering its payload anywhere on Earth within 90 minutes.[39]

By September 2017, Raptor engines had been tested for a combined total of 1200 seconds of test firing time over 42 main engine tests. The longest test was 100 seconds, which is limited by the size of the propellant tanks at the SpaceX ground test facility. The test engine operates at 20 MPa (200 bar; 2,900 psi) pressure. The flight engine is aimed for 25 MPa (250 bar; 3,600 psi), and SpaceX expects to achieve 30 MPa (300 bar; 4,400 psi) in later iterations.[1] In November 2017, SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell indicated that approximately half of all development work on BFR was then focused on the Raptor engine.[41]

The aspirational goal in 2017 was to send the first two cargo missions to Mars in 2022,[39] with the goal to "confirm water resources and identify hazards" while putting "power, mining, and life support infrastructure" in place for future flights, followed by four ships in 2024, two crewed BFR spaceships plus two cargo-only ships bringing additional equipment and supplies with the goal of setting up the propellant production plant.[1]

By early 2018, the first ship using carbon composite structure was under construction, and SpaceX had begun building a new permanent production facility to build the 9-meter vehicles at the Port of Los Angeles. Manufacture of the first ship was underway by March 2018 in a temporary facility at the port,[7] with first suborbital test flights planned for no earlier than 2019.[7][42] The company continued to state publicly its aspirational goal for initial Mars-bound cargo flights of BFR launching as early as 2022, followed by the first crewed flight to Mars one synodic period later, in 2024,[7][40] consistent with the no-earlier-than dates mentioned in late-2017.

Back in 2015, SpaceX had been scouting for manufacturing facility locations to build the large rocket, with locations being investigated in California, Texas, Louisiana,[43] and Florida.[44] By September 2017, SpaceX had already started building launch vehicle components. "The tooling for the main tanks has been ordered, the facility is being built, we will start construction of the first ship [in the second quarter of 2018.]"[1]

In March 2018, SpaceX publicly announced that it would manufacture its next-generation, 9-meter-diameter (30 ft) launch vehicle and spaceship at a new facility the company is constructing in 2018–2019 on Seaside Drive at the Port of Los Angeles. The company had leased an 18-acre site for 10 years, with multiple renewals possible, and will use the site for manufacturing, recovery from shipborne landings, and refurbishment of both the booster and the spaceship.[45][46][47] Final regulatory approval of the new manufacturing facility came from the Board of Harbor Commissioners in April 2018,[43] and the Los Angeles City Council in May.[48] By that time, approximately 40 SpaceX employees were working on the design and construction of BFR.[43] Over time, the project was expected to have 700 technical jobs.[44] The permanent Port of Los Angeles facility was projected to be a 203,500-square-foot (18,910 m2) building that would be 105 feet (32 m) tall.[49] The fully assembled launch vehicle was expected at that time to be "transported by barge, through the Panama Canal, to Cape Canaveral in Florida for launch."[43]

In August 2018, for the first time, the US military publicly discussed interest in using the BFR. The head of USAF Air Mobility Command was specifically interested in BFRs ability to move up to 150 t (330,000 lb) of cargo to anywhere in the world using the projected Earth-to-Earth capability in under 30 minutes, for "less than the cost of a C-5". They projected the large transport capability "could happen within the next five to 10 years."[50][51]

In a September 2018 announcement of a planned 2023 lunar circumnavigation mission—a private flight called #dearMoon[15]—Musk showed a redesigned concept for the second stage and spaceship with three rear fins and two front canard fins added for atmospheric entry, replacing the previous delta wing and split flaps shown a year earlier. The revised BFR design was to use seven identically-sized Raptor engines in the second stage; the same engine model as would be used on the first stage. The second stage design had two small actuating canard fins near the nose of the ship, and three large fins at the base, two of which would actuate, with all three serving as landing legs.[52] Additionally, SpaceX also stated in the second half of the month that they were "no longer planning to upgrade Falcon 9 second stage for reusability."[53] The two major parts of the BFR launch vehicle were given descriptive names in November: Starship for the spaceship/upper stage and "Super Heavy" for the booster stage which Musk pointed out was "needed to escape Earth’s deep gravity well (not needed for other planets or moons)."[10]

“New design approach”[edit]

In December 2018, nine months after starting construction of some parts of the first test article carbon composite Starship low-altitude test vehicle, SpaceX CEO Musk announced a "counterintuitive new design approach" would be taken by the company: the primary construction material for the rocket's structure and propellant tanks would be "fairly heavy...but extremely strong" metal,[54][55][56] subsequently revealed to be stainless steel.

Following a personal trip to the South Texas Launch Site in Boca Chica, Texas, Musk revealed on 23 December 2018 that the first test article Starship had been under construction there for several weeks, out in the open on SpaceX property. The "hopper" was being built from a 300-series stainless steel—not carbon composite as previously thought. According to Musk, the reason for using this material is that "it’s [stainless steel] obviously cheap, it’s obviously fast—but it’s not obviously the lightest. But it is actually the lightest. If you look at the properties of a high-quality stainless steel, the thing that isn’t obvious is that at cryogenic temperatures, the strength is boosted by 50 percent."[57] The high melting point of 300-series still would mean the leeward side of Starship would need no insulation during reentry, while the much hotter windward side would be cooled by allowing fuel or water to bleed through micropores in a double-wall stainless steel skin, removing heat by evaporation. The test "hopper" Starship would be used on the initial test flights to characterize the vehicle and develop the landing and low-altitude/low-velocity control algorithms. The test vehicle will fly with only three Raptor methalox engines installed, reach an altitude of no more than 5 km, and the initial flight was expected no earlier than the first half of 2019.[58][59]

By March 2019, SpaceX had scrapped millions of dollars worth of carbon-composite production tooling that they had purchased from Ascent Aerospace and had been delivered to SpaceX for use only the previous April, abandoned all Port of Los Angeles production plans, and shut down that composite manufacturing facility.[60]

Super Heavy prototype assembly was planned to start no earlier than the second quarter of 2019. The first Super Heavy flights will likely fly with fewer than all 37 Raptor engines, simply because they will not be needed for the early test flights, and it will reduce the cost to SpaceX in the event of a booster failure during the early flights.[61]


SpaceX is developing its next-generation launch vehicle—Starship/Super-Heavy—with private funding, including the Raptor rocket engine used on both stages of the vehicle.[62]

After unveiling a conceptual plan for a 12-meter-diameter launch vehicle in 2016, SpaceX determined they could not afford to complete it and bring it into service. They subsequently pursued a much smaller 9-meter-diameter design in 2017, and commenced procuring equipment for vehicle manufacturing operations. In late 2018, they switched from carbon composite materials for the main structures and pivoted to stainless steel, further lowering build costs.[15] By late 2019, SpaceX projected that—with company private investiment funding, including contractual funds from Yusaku Maezawa who has contracted for a private lunar mission in 2023 (DearMoon project)—they have sufficient funds to advance the Earth-orbit and lunar orbit extent of flight operations, although they may raise additional funds in order "to go to the Moon or landing on Mars."[62]

Subsystem testing[edit]

Testing began at the subsystem level, as it does with most launch vehicles, with rocket engine component tests, followed by tests of the complete rocket engine in ground test facilities. Raptor engine component-level testing began in May 2014[63] with the first full-engine test in September 2016.[64] By September 2017, the development Raptor engine had undergone 1200 seconds of hotfire testing in ground-test stands across 42 main engine tests, with the longest test at that time being 100 seconds.[1]

SpaceX had indicated in November 2018 that they were considering testing a heavily-modified Falcon 9 second stage that would look like a "mini-BFR Ship" to be used for flight testing of a number of technologies needed for the full-scale spaceship.[65][66][67] However, several weeks later, Musk clarified that SpaceX would not build a mini-BFR but would accelerate development of the full-sized BFR instead.[68]


SpaceX CEO Elon Musk explains the future capabilities of Starship to NORAD and Air Force Space Command in April 2019.

The name of SpaceX next-generation large launch vehicle has changed many times, but the current name of the spaceship is "Starship" and the booster stage is "Super Heavy."[69]

At least as early as 2005, SpaceX had used the descriptor, "BFR", for a conceptual heavy-lift vehicle, "far larger than the Falcon family of vehicles,"[70][71] with a goal of 100 t (220,000 lb) to orbit. Beginning in mid-2013, SpaceX referred to both the mission architecture and the vehicle as the Mars Colonial Transporter.[72] By the time the large 12-meter diameter design was unveiled in September 2016, SpaceX had begun referring to the overall system as the Interplanetary Transport System and the launch vehicle itself as the ITS launch vehicle.

With the announcement of a new 9-meter design in September 2017, SpaceX resumed referring to the vehicle as "BFR".[40][73][74] Musk said in the announcement, "we are searching for the right name, but the code name, at least, is BFR."[1] SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell subsequently stated that BFR stands for, "Big Falcon Rocket".[75] However, Elon Musk had explained in the past that although BFR is the official name, he drew inspiration from the BFG weapon in the Doom video games.[76] The BFR has also occasionally been referred to informally by the media and internally at SpaceX as "Big Fucking Rocket".[77][78][79] The upper stage is also the spaceship, or for a time in 2017–18 was referred to as "BFS".[a][80][81][82] The booster first stage was also at times referred to as the "BFB".[b][83][84][85] In November 2018, the spaceship was renamed Starship, and the first stage booster was named Super Heavy.[10][86]

Notably, in the fashion of SpaceX, even that term super heavy had been previously used by SpaceX in a different context. In February 2018, at about the time of the first Falcon Heavy launch, Musk had "suggested the possibility of a Falcon Super Heavy—a Falcon Heavy with extra boosters. 'We could really dial it up to as much performance as anyone could ever want. If we wanted to we could actually add two more side boosters and make it Falcon Super Heavy.'"[87]


SpaceX states:

SpaceX's Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket (collectively referred to as Starship) represent a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars and beyond.[13]

The launch vehicle design combines several elements that, according to Musk, will make long-duration, beyond Earth orbit (BEO) spaceflights possible. The design is projected by SpaceX to reduce the per-ton cost of launches to low Earth orbit (LEO) and of transportation between BEO destinations. It will also serve all use cases for the conventional LEO market. This will allow SpaceX to focus the majority of their development resources on the next-generation launch vehicle.[1][21][88][39]

The fully reusable super heavy-lift launch vehicle will consist of two main parts: a reusable booster stage, named Super Heavy, and a reusable second stage with an integrated payload section, named Starship.[10][1]

Combining the second-stage of a launch vehicle with a long-duration spaceship will be a unique type of space mission architecture. This architecture is dependent on the success of orbital refueling.[39]

Major characteristics of the launch vehicle include:[20][39][89][81][2]

First stage: Super Heavy[edit]

Super Heavy,[86] the first stage, or booster, of the SpaceX next-generation launch vehicle is 68 meters (223 ft) long and 9 m (30 ft) in diameter and expected to have a gross liftoff mass of 3,680,000 kg (8,110,000 lb) [4][12] It is to be constructed of stainless steel tanks and structure, holding subcooled liquid methane and liquid oxygen (CH
/LOX) propellants, powered by 24 to 37 Raptor rocket engines[11] providing 72 MN (16,000,000 lbf) total liftoff thrust.[11][13] The booster is projected to eventually return to land on the launch mount,[20][39][89][81] although it will initially have landing legs to support the early VTVL development testing of Super Heavy.[91][92][93]

The initial prototype Super Heavy will be full size,[94] and not a shorter-height rocket like the Starhopper second-stage prototype was. It is expected however to initially fly with less than the full complement of 37 engines, perhaps approximately 20.[95]

In September 2019, several Super Heavy external design changes were announced. The booster stage will now have six fins that serve exclusively[96]:26:25–28:35 as fairings to cover the six landing legs, and four diamond-shaped welded steel grid fins[97] to provide aerodynamic control on descent.[98] The booster will be designed such that engines can be added or subtracted to match specific payload requirements of a particular flight.[96]

Super Heavy tests[edit]

It was also announced that at least two prototype Super Heavy vehicles would be built starting in 2020—SH Mk1 in Texas and SH Mk2 in Florida–but that construction would not begin until after the first four Starship prototypes are built.[96]

Initial flight testing of the Super Heavy booster stage will follow Starship MK1 and MK2 testing. As of May 2019, SpaceX projected that the construction of the first Super Heavy would not start before August.[18]

Second stage and spaceship: Starship[edit]

Starship[86][10] is a reusable spacecraft that also serves as the launch vehicle second stage with an integrated payload section. Starship will eventually be built in at least three operational versions: [39]

Major characteristics of Starship include:[20][39][89][81]

  • being designed such that the ship can return from Earth orbit and land near the launch mount using retropropulsive landing and the reusable launch vehicle technologies developed earlier by SpaceX
  • landing reliability is projected by SpaceX to ultimately be able to achieve "airline levels" of safety due to engine-out capability.
  • rendezvous and docking operations will be automated
  • on-orbit propellant transfers from Starship tankers to Starship spaceships or cargo spaceships[c]
  • a Starship and its payload will be able to transit to the Moon or fly to Mars after on-orbit propellant loading
  • stainless steel structure and tank construction. Its strength-to-mass ratio is comparable to or better than the earlier SpaceX design alternative of carbon fiber composites across the anticipated temperature ranges, from the low temperatures of cryogenic propellants to the high temperatures of atmospheric reentry[58]
  • some parts of the craft will be built with a stainless steel alloy that "has undergone [a type of] cryogenic treatment, in which metals are ... cold-formed/worked [to produce a] cryo-treated steel ... dramatically lighter and more wear-resistant than traditional hot-rolled steel."[58]
  • the thermal protection system against the harsh conditions of atmospheric reentry will utilize a double stainless-steel skin with active coolant flowing in between the two layers. Hexagonal stainless steel tiles will blanket the windward side of Starship, and some areas will additionally contain multiple small pores that will allow for transpiration cooling.[99][100][101] However, on July 24, 2019, Elon Musk, SpaceX's CEO, announced that the Starship would likely move away from a liquid-cooled steel heat shield to a ceramic heat shield tile meant for use on Starship’s windward side.[102] This type of ceramic heat shield tiles have been tested on "Starhopper" flights and SpaceX CRS-18 mission.[103][104]
  • as envisioned in the 2017 design unveiling, the Starship was to have a pressurized volume of approximately 1,000 m3 (35,000 cu ft), which could be configured for up to 40 cabins, large common areas, central storage, a galley, and a solar flare shelter for Mars missions.[81] In a 2018 update, SpaceX showed a concept that could have 12 unpressurized aft cargo containers of 88 m3 (3,100 cu ft) total,[citation needed] but those cargo containers are a function of the final Starship engine configuration, which as of 2019, remains in flux.
  • flexible design options; for example, a possible design modification to the base Starship—expendable 3-engine Starship with no fairing, canards, rear fins, thermal shield, nor landing legs—to optimize mass ratio for interplanetary exploration with robotic probes.[105]

Starship prototypes[edit]

Construction of the Starship test vehicle

SpaceX is building at least two Starship prototype vehicles to use as test articles for integrated system testing of various aspects of the technology that makes up Starship. The low-altitude, low-velocity Starship test flight rocket will be used for initial integrated testing of the Raptor rocket engine with a flight-capable propellant structure, and will test the newly-designed autogenous pressurization system that is replacing traditional helium tank pressurization as well as initial launch and landing algorithms for the much larger 9-meter-diameter rocket. SpaceX originally developed their reusable booster technology for the 3-meter-diameter Falcon 9 in 2012–2018. It will also be the platform for the first flight tests of the full-flow staged combustion methalox Raptor engines, where the hopper vehicle is expected to be flight tested with up to three engines to facilitate engine-out tolerance testing.

The high-altitude, high-velocity Starship orbital prototypes (MK1 and MK2) will be used to develop and flight test novel thermal protection systems and hypersonic reentry control surfaces. The orbital prototype is expected to be outfitted with more than three Raptor engines.


The construction of the initial test article—the "Starship test flight rocket"[106] or "test hopper"[107] or "Starhopper"[108][109]—was begun in early December 2018 and the external frame and skin was complete by 10 January 2019.[107][58][110] The test article was used to flight test a number of subsystems of the Starship.[107][111][7] It made two free flights at the SpaceX South Texas Launch Site near Boca Chica, Texas,[2] a flight to 20 meter altitude in July and a flight to 150 meter altitude in August 2019. Afterwards it was retired.[112]

Starship High-altitude prototypes

Two full-size orbital prototype test articles, also referred to as "Starship Mk 1" and "Starship Mk 2" were built in 2019. Mk 1 was severely damaged during a pressurization test in November 2019. Originally Mk 1 and potentially Mk 2 were planned to do high altitude flights, but SpaceX decided to use them for tests on the ground only. The next prototype, Mk 3, will be prepared for flight tests.[113][114]

Starship tests[edit]

From October 2017, the month after the BFR concept was unveiled, flight tests of the rocket were expected to begin with short suborbital hops of the full-scale second stage,[111] with initial test flights proposed to be as early as 2019.[7] By September 2018, it was clear that hops of the upper stage spaceship would be conducted from the SpaceX South Texas Launch Site near Brownsville, Texas.[2] SpaceX filed an application with the FCC in November 2018 for an experimental radio communications license to support the test flight program, with all test flights on that permit slated to remain under 5 kilometers (16,000 ft) in altitude.[59] Both the test article Starship and the Texas launch site were under construction by late 2018.[58]

The primary structure of the first test "Starhopper", a cut-down version of the Starship meant for low altitude tests, was complete by 10 January 2019.[106] Later in January, while the nose and tail sections of the Starhopper were separated, high winds toppled and damaged the nose structure. The tank structure and vehicle legs remained intact.[115][116][117] SpaceX subsequently indicated they would not rebuild the nose cone for the first Starhopper as it was not needed for the low-velocity flight testing.[18]

SpaceX completed its first static fire test of the Starhopper on 3 April 2019.[99]

On 25 July 2019 Starhopper successfully completed a 20 meter hop test,[118] and on 27 August 2019 Starhopper successfully completed a 150 meter hop test. [119]

Launch vehicle specifications and performance[edit]


Overall launch vehicle
(booster + ship)
Super Heavy (booster) Starship (spaceship/tanker/
sat-delivery vehicle)
LEO payload 100,000 kg (220,000 lb)-150,000 kg (330,000 lb)[120]
Return payload 50,000 kg (110,000 lb)[121]
Cargo volume 1,000+ m3 (35,000+ cu ft)[122]
88 m3 (3,100 cu ft)[122]
N/A 1,000+ m3 (35,000+ cu ft)[122]
88 m3 (3,100 cu ft)[122]
Diameter 9 m (30 ft)[81]
Length 118 m (387 ft)[122] 68 m (223 ft)[5] 50 m (160 ft)[5]
Maximum mass 5,000,000 kg (11,000,000 lb)[4] 3,530,000 kg (7,780,000 lb) (estimated) [4] 1,470,000 kg (3,240,000 lb)
Propellant capacity CH
– 720,000 kg (1,590,000 lb)[11]
– 260,000 kg (570,000 lb)[12]
– 2,580,000 kg (5,690,000 lb)[11]
– 940,000 kg (2,070,000 lb)[12]
Empty mass 230,000 kg (510,000 lb) (estimated) [4] 120,000 kg (260,000 lb)[4]
Engines 24 to 37 × Sea level Raptors[11] 3 × Sea level Raptors,
3 × vacuum optimized Raptors[123]
Thrust 72 MN (16,000,000 lbf)[13] 10.8 MN (2,400,000 lbf) estimated total

The Raptor engine design chamber pressure is 25 MPa (250 bar; 3,600 psi), although SpaceX plans to increase that to 30 MPa (300 bar; 4,400 psi) in later iterations of the engine. Musk states that the engine "will be designed with an extreme focus on reliability for any single engine",[89] and that redundant engines means it is "definitely capable of [mitigating an] engine out at any time, including two engine out, in almost all circumstances. So you could lose two engines and still be totally safe."[124] In this way, the ship is being designed to achieve "landing reliability that is on par with the safest commercial airliners."[39] The comments were made before SpaceX reduced the number of total engines to six.


The new super-heavy launch vehicle is designed to replace all existing SpaceX vehicles and spacecraft: Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles, and also the Dragon capsule. SpaceX estimates that BFR launches will be cheaper than the existing fleet, and even cheaper than the retired Falcon 1, due to full reusability and precision landing of the booster on its launch mount for simplified launch logistics. SpaceX intends to fully replace its vehicle fleet with BFRs during the early 2020s.[125][39][1]:24:50–27:05

The vehicle is expected to be used in various applications:[125][20]

Although both Musk and Shotwell, SpaceX's CEO and COO, have mentioned the potential of the two-stage BFR (2017) and subsequently, the single-stage Starship by itself (2019), to carry passengers on suborbital flights between two points on Earth in under one hour, SpaceX has announced no concrete plans to pursue this use case.[1][111][129] Nevertheless, the technology possibilities shown by SpaceX have surfaced theoretical transportation options that could potentially fill previously unfilled niches of transport across the globe, and analysts continue to debate the economic value of such high-speed, high-capacity cargo and passenger transportation means.[130]

Lunar flyby tour[edit]

Artistic rendition of the Starship firing all 7 of its engines while passing by the Moon
Artistic rendition of Starship firing all 7 of its engines while passing by the Moon

In September 2018, SpaceX announced that it signed a contract to fly a group of private passengers around the Moon aboard Starship.[52] In addition of the pilots, this lunar flyby will be crewed by Yusaku Maezawa,[131] who will invite 6 to 8 artists to travel with him around the Moon in 2023.[132] The expected travel time would be about 6 days.[131][132]

Transport to Mars and Mars surface ship use[edit]

SpaceX plans to eventually build a crewed base on Mars for an extended surface presence, which they hope will grow one day into a self-sufficient colony.[133][134][135][136][137]

Any Mars expeditions would refuel Starships in low Earth orbit before departing for Mars. Early ships would be left on Mars to house equipment, store propellant, or provide spare parts. Eventually, once humans travel to Mars, at least one of the reusable Starships from earlier flights would be capable of being refueled to provide a redundant spare spacecraft for a return journey to Earth.[138][133][139][134][139]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Big Falcon Spaceship
  2. ^ Big Falcon Booster
  3. ^ Also known as "butt to butt" transfer


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External links[edit]