How SpaceX’s large interstellar spacecraft rocket will unlock the solar system and beyond

More importantly, compared with other super-heavy rockets under development, the interstellar spacecraft has key advantages, such as NASA’s long-delayed space launch system and Blue Origin’s New Glen Rockets. The upper part of the rocket is designed as Refueling on earth orbit By other interstellar spacecraft, so its more lifting capacity can be given to scientific equipment instead of fuel.For example, bringing humans to the moon may require Eight separate launches, Each successive “tanker starship” will provide fuel for the “lunar starship”, and then go to the moon with scientific equipment and crew.

Scientists are now beginning to dream about what the interstellar spacecraft might ask them to do.Earlier this year, a paper published by Jennifer Heldmann of NASA’s Ames Research Center Explored some scientific opportunities This may be opened by interstellar spacecraft missions to the moon and Mars. A big benefit is that Starship can carry full-size equipment from the earth-there is no need to miniaturize it to fit in a smaller vehicle like the Apollo mission to the moon. For example, “You can bring a drilling rig,” Heldman said. “You can drill a kilometer, just like we do on Earth.” This will provide unprecedented access to the interior of the Moon and Mars, where ice and other useful resources are believed to exist. Heldmann said that in the past, such thoughts were “a bit crazy.” But with Starship, “you can do it, and there is still room left,” she added. “What else do you want to bring?”

Because the interstellar spacecraft can land on the earth, in theory it can also bring back a large number of samples. The absolute volume that can be returned from a variety of different locations will allow scientists on Earth to obtain extraterrestrial material like never before. Heldman said this may solve countless mysteries, such as the volcanic history of the moon or the “problems of life and astrobiology” on Mars.

Starship can also achieve more luxurious missions to other places by launching directly from the earth or using the moon and Mars as gas stations. This is the ambitious future that Musk envisions.

We go to neptune

An idea from an international team of scientists called Connors (Conceptual Exploration Research), is a kind of Mystery, It will use Starship’s lifting capabilities to explore Neptune and its largest moon Triton. Neptune has only been visited once, a flight visit by NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1989, and there are many things we don’t know about it. “No one really thought about the next level of interstellar spacecraft,” said James McKevitt, a researcher at the University of Vienna and co-head of Conex. “This is what Arcanum aims to show.”

The spacecraft weighs approximately 21 metric tons, which is four times heavier than the largest deep space probe to date: NASA and ESA’s Cassini-Huygens mission, which explored Saturn from 2004 to 2017. There is currently no rocket that can launch such a spacecraft, but Starship will make it possible. McKevitt said that Arcanum will have many components, including an orbiter to study Neptune, a lander to study Triton, and a lander to hit Triton’s surface and “perform seismic experiments” to understand its geological and structural penetration. Device. The mission can also be equipped with telescopes to study the outer solar system and help find planets around other stars.

Other ideas are even more speculative. Philip Lubin, a physicist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, calculated that a sufficiently large rocket, such as Starship, can be used Prevent asteroids from hitting the earthSuch a mission can carry enough explosives to tear apart an asteroid, as large as the 10-km-wide rock that wiped out the dinosaurs. Before it has a chance to reach our planet, its debris will burn harmlessly in the atmosphere.

Interstellar spacecraft may also be a better way to launch giant space telescopes that can observe the universe.Currently, NASA and ESA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope and other equipment must be launched fold, This is an expensive, complicated and delicate process that can be error-prone.NASA recommends the use of a super telescope called LUVOIR, designed to image Earth-like planets around other stars Can be launched on an interstellar spacecraft, And Musk has said that SpaceX is already working on “an interesting project, which is to have a very large telescope, use a lens for ground-based telescopes, and use it to make a space telescope.” No more details have been disclosed yet.

Say hello to neighbors

In other places, some scientists dream of using interstellar spacecraft to prepare to visit other stars.René Heller and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany For example Starship can provide a low-cost method to test the technology of a spacecraft that can fly for several light years to reach nearby star systems. Starship can release a sail-driven spacecraft on its journey to Mars. The spacecraft will use airborne lasers to propel thin sails to incredible speeds, enabling demonstrations outside of Earth’s orbit. “If SpaceX kindly takes one of our sails on board and releases it on the way to Mars, then we should be able to track its acceleration and path through the solar system for a few days, almost reaching Jupiter’s orbit,” Heller Say.

Other ideas include using Starship to send probes to Jupiter’s volcanic moon Io, which is a difficult task without substantial lifting capabilities. Alfred McEwen, a planetary geologist at the University of Arizona, said: “It’s extremely challenging to get into orbit and protect yourself from Jupiter’s intense radiation.” “But mass helps these things. . You can have enough fuel and radiation shielding.”

Musk suggested that SpaceX could launch as many as 12 interstellar spacecraft test flights in 2022. The moon and Mars missions are on the horizon and have a lot of scientific potential. Margarita Marinova, a former senior engineer for Mars development at SpaceX, said: “Once Starship starts flying, the development speed will be very fast.” “There will be more people able to fly.” These missions can be used. The independent mission of Starship can also be an accompanying mission on the existing flight list. “When you have 100 tons of capacity, adding scientific hardware is very easy,” Marineva said. “If someone wants to buy payload space, they can have payload space. This will be a huge change in the way we do scientific work.”

Of course, we have good reasons to be cautious.Although Starship did a test flight No super heavy booster, We have not seen the complete rocket launch. This is an extremely large and complex machine, and problems may still be encountered during its development. SpaceX and Musk were also notorious for their arrogance (politely) for their schedule and goals (a proposed mission to Mars, the Red Dragon, which should have already been launched). As early as 2018). The method proposed by Starship to reach the Moon and Mars relies on multiple refueling missions in Earth orbit, which is still complicated and untested.

However, if Starship succeeds, there are many exciting reasons for what it can do. From the inner solar system to the outer solar system, and possibly even farther, it is likely to usher in a whole new era of space science. “I believe some very smart people are starting to consider sending scientific missions on interstellar spacecraft,” said Abhishek Tripathi, a space scientist at the University of California, Berkeley.

Or as Musk said: “This is really anything you can imagine.”



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