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US military hopes one day to move supplies, maybe troops, on SpaceX's Starship

Richard Tribou, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in Science & Technology News

ORLANDO, Fla. — While NASA is rooting for SpaceX to achieve Starship success so it can land humans on the moon, the U.S. military has plans of their own for the massive rocket that could include launches from Florida’s Space Coast.

Elon Musk’s next-generation rocket currently in development at SpaceX’s southeast Texas facilities is gearing up for its third suborbital test flight as soon as this month after its first two ended in explosions last year. It’s part of the company’s long-term plans for a completely reusable spacecraft with more payload capacity into space than any other rocket ever.

Starship’s potential also includes flying quickly from one spot on Earth to another, which is what has the Department of Defense interested. That was discussed during the Space Mobility Conference held by the Space Force at the Orange County Convention Center earlier this month.

“Rocket cargo point-to-point is not the reason we’re building Starship,” said SpaceX senior adviser Gary Henry. “We’re building Starship to get to Mars.” [But] “what we’re finding is it’s a system we’re putting together that has profound impacts for national security, and one of them just happens to be rocket point-to-point.”

The big driver of that is the potential the military could use the rocket to send supplies, and perhaps even troops in the future, to anywhere in the world in less than an hour. Defense department officials began looking at the idea two decades ago but only recently has it come closer to reality.

“Envision a number of containers sitting in a warehouse down in [Cape] Canaveral, we go to an alert level, we pull them up, you start putting them on the rocket,” said Gregory Spanjers, chief scientist for the U.S. Air Force Research Lab. “At each successive alert level, your time to launch shrinks and shrinks and shrinks, and we can we get it down to one hour.”

 

Spanjers said teams have already been making mockups of Starship’s cargo bay figuring out how to take advantage of a quick supply run.

Speed is the obvious draw, but the cost is dropping and getting closer to existing expenses for moving supplies.

Henry said SpaceX’s current fleet of Falcon 9 rockets with boosters originally designed to fly 10 times, but with future boosters that might go up as many as 40 times, have brought the price of flying payloads from about $4,500 per pound to about $900 per pound.

The Falcon 9’s have a capacity of 44,000 pounds to 132,000 pounds.

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