Monday, July 22, 2024

These are giant rockets that promise to open a new era of space exploration towards Mars

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HTurning the dream of sending humans to Mars into reality is the new horizon drawn by the space race in this century. For countries like the United States and China to be able to take this step, they have not only shown that they are keen to make it happen again moon – To turn it into something similar to a shuttle mission into deep space – but they accelerated its development New ships capable of carrying heavy payloads allow for the colonization of space.

According to standards

In that competition SpaceXthe company that Elon Musk It was founded in 2002 to advance its ambitions to pioneer human access to the Red Planet, but it remains the most prominent competitor. Last week we saw how the most powerful rocket ever built reached a key stage in its development, suggesting that reaching Martian soil may be possible..

On June 6, in its fourth test launch, it was able to return the ship’s two stages – the super-heavy booster and the capsule – to Earth in a controlled manner, a feat it had not achieved in its first three attempts. “The outfit has been confirmed! Congratulations to the entire SpaceX team on the exciting fourth Starship flight test!”

For experts in the field like Juan Francisco Puerta, professor of aeronautical engineering at the University of Antioquia, although Starship still has tests to become a safe, fully operational rocket for transporting cargo and people, the fifth test will take place the following year. Three months – I have already managed to break the prevailing paradigms in the sector regarding traditional ways of working on issues such as ship design and manufacture.

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“In methods like NASA, everything had to be perfect before it was used. The entire traditional aeronautical systems engineering design process was done, and if a mistake was found after three or four years, it had to be done again, and it took a lot of the time. SpaceX’s perspective is what’s known as evolutionary systems, which has an initial idea in which things are tested and measured to improve them.“Explains Professor Puerta.

In this way, in just three years, SpaceX experienced a rocket that completely exploded minutes after its first launch, and which failed on the second attempt to separate the two parts that make it up, so controllers were forced to activate an emergency safety system that caused the ship to explode as well, and the old saying seems to be “ The third is magic” applies to her. On the third flight, the two stages – the pod and the pod – were separated Extremely heavy launcher-, It successfully started its six engines and reached the expected altitude and speed for the first time, although it did not land. The thing that distinguished the celebrations of the fourth attempt.

Daniel Posada, a Ph.D. in aeronautical engineering from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, calls it a feat of engineering, considering the dimensions of a ship that aspires to carry more than 100 metric tons of cargo into space, making the Super Heavy launcher reusable for shorter flights. . Costs for future space achievements, as SpaceX already does today with ships like the Falcon 9 that carry astronauts into space. International Space Station.

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People watch a Starship rocket take off in Matamoros, Tamaulipas state (Mexico).


“The re-entry into the atmosphere is the hardest part of all, because the volume increases the space of the vehicle and there is a lot of heat that has to be dissipated because that entire surface is in friction with the atmosphere,” he explains in detail. expert. This first stage of the Starship is 121.3 meters high (71 for the booster and 50.3 for the ship).

Posada continues: “For this reason, the ship has special ceramics, but there are still some points that still need to be improved. Because of the heat, there were defects in the surface responsible for guiding the car aerodynamically. But despite this, the design was very strong.” So much so that with those flaws they were able to land the desired way.

However, in this Race to Mars, despite being the luckiest runner, Starship is not alone. A new generation of rockets is now being developed with the support of the private sector, which has proven effective in increasing the ambition of space projects. These are some of the ships, including SpaceX’s commitment, that promise to celebrate this new chapter in human history in space.


According to SpaceX, Starship represents a fully reusable transportation system designed to meet the needs of Earth orbit, as well as missions to the Moon and Mars. It is a two-stage vehicle – consisting of a very heavy rocket (propellant) and a spacecraft (spacecraft), which runs on methane and cryogenic oxygen. An idea that Elon Musk’s company has been working on since 2005: manufacturing the most powerful launch vehicle ever developed.

When it is operational, what Musk hopes will happen within three years is that it will be able to transport satellites, payloads, crew and cargo to various orbits and landing sites on Earth, the Moon or Mars. The Super Heavy launcher has 33 Raptor enginesWhile the capsule, which hopes in the next stages to be able to carry up to 100 people on interplanetary trips, carries 6 others.

Its height is 121.3 metres, exceeding by 10.7 meters the symbolic Saturn V rocket (110.6 metres) used in NASA’s Apollo program Which took the first men to the moon and up 23.2 meters to the initial stage of the Space Launch System (SLS), developed by the US space agency for the early stages of the Artemis programme, from which they hope to resume lunar missions later this year. More than half a century.

For these missions specifically, SpaceX has already received several contracts from NASA, among them HLS lunar landerWhich will be the means of transportation that will transport astronauts from the natural satellite orbit to the surface of the moon, with a special version of the spacecraft.

Subsequent versions of the spacecraft are expected to continue raising the bar. Starship 2 will be 124.4 meters high (72.3 from the propeller and 52.1 from the ship) while Starship 3 will be 150 meters high (80.2 from the propeller and 69.8 from the ship).

New Glen

With this rocket, named after John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, Blue originalSpace company Jeff Bezos It is also betting on reusable rockets. They point out that the first stage is designed for at least 25 flights, and that by operating like a commercial airliner (but with less polluting fuel), it will generate much less waste and costs.

The new Glenn rocket from Blue Origins

picture:Kevin Gill

New Glen is 98 meters high. Which also places it among the largest ships ever built. It is estimated to be capable of transporting approximately 45,000 metric tons of cargo to low Earth orbit, powered by seven combustion engines powered by liquid oxygen (LOX) and liquefied natural gas (LNG).

As with Starship, the first stage of the New Glenn rocket is a reusable vehicle stage, designed to land on an offshore platform in the Atlantic Ocean. However, this ship has not yet begun test launches.

In January of this year, it was already seen fully assembled on a launch pad in Florida (USA) for ground testing, but its maiden flight was postponed, first from 2020 to 2021, and then to 2022, and therefore, it is now scheduled to finally happen by End of this year.

Being another private company serving as contractors for NASA, Blue Origin also plans to use this rocket to launch lunar landers it is designing for the Artemis program.


For NASA Space Launch System (SLS)along with the Orion spacecraft Portal platform In lunar orbit and the Human Landing System (developed by SpaceX and Blue Origin), they are the backbone of the Deep Space Exploration Agency and the Artemis lunar program. AndIt is also the most powerful rocket ever built by NASA.

SLS take off

picture:NASA/Joel Kofsky)

SLS is intended to ship to OrionAstronauts and supplies to the moon on one mission. For Artemis I alone, the rocket has delivered more than 27 metric tons to the natural satellite, and is expected to have more power and be able to lift heavier payloads into orbit as it develops.

For this first mission, the Block 1 ship configuration was used, which at 98 meters long, is taller than the Statue of Liberty and weighs 5.75 million pounds. However, compared to developments by private companies, one of the major drawbacks of SLS is that it is not reusable and was very expensive for NASA to build. In 2022, NASA Inspector General Paul Martin described that launching each Artemis mission would cost $4.1 billion (about 15 trillion pesos) per launch, which he described as “unsustainable.”

Efforts made in China

But in addition to the rapid progress witnessed by the American side, there is another front moving in the space race, which is the Chinese front, which has also decided to give an impetus to the private sector. According to Effie, China opened its space sector to private capital at the end of 2014, and since then, hundreds of companies have been born. But until now, it has specialized in launching satellites and spacecraft under lower-cost programmes.

As part of the development of new vehicles, they recently tested Gravity 1, which, at 30 meters high, weighing 405 tons and with a thrust of 600 tons, is the most powerful solid-fuel launcher in the world. The satellite, developed by the private company Orien Space, carried three Earth observation satellites in January. But according to experts like engineer Daniel Posada, with the use of this type of fuel in its missiles having a greater negative impact on the environment, China is still lagging behind in developing these technologies.

“The infrastructure and investments they have made in recent years in the aviation sector have been very high. They are slowly catching up and overtaking powers like Russia. But first they also have to start experimenting with the whole reuse part of vehicles and mastering other fuels that They haven’t used it before.” Meanwhile, the Asian country is also developing The extra-heavy Long March 9 and Long March 10 rockets are for large space infrastructure and manned lunar missions, respectively..

Alejandra Lopez Plazas

Science Editing

@malelopezpl | @ScienceTime

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