GAME OVER! SpaceX INSANE NEW Nuclear Starship?!
Musk dreams of taking millions of people to mars to live permanently there. His Starship can only take 100 passengers at a time on a trip that may last up to 9 months. Can nuclear energy powered Starships make the process faster?
This is a sneak peek into how switching the insane Starship’s power source to nuclear energy can cut the journey down into weeks.
The Starship is an amazing piece of engineering. It is insanely large, fast, completely reusable and both stages can land in an upright position.
Even NASA believes in it as it has contracted SpaceX to use it to land NASA astronauts on the moon. And the US military wants to use it for ultra rapid transport of cargo here on the earth.
However, the Starship is destined for longer trips. Both SpaceX and NASA are banking on it to take them to mars, albeit for different reasons.
Here, the limits of the Starship becomes obvious. Due to the constraints of using normal rocket fuel, the Starship may take up to 9 months and an insane amount of propellant on a one way trip.
This is far from ideal for Musk’s plans, for several reasons.
The most obvious one is Musk’s dream of transplanting enough people on the planet in a short enough time to form a self sustaining society.
As stated by Musk himself, that goal requires getting millions of people across the vast space between the two planets in a relatively short time.
However, depending on the alignment of the planets, a single one way trip can last 9 months. With 100 colonists taking off at a time, the best result the Starship can deliver is a trickle of mars arrivers.
To get to the scale intended by Musk, faster transportation is a necessity.
There are other practical reasons why there is a need for speed in the grand plan to take over mars.
For instance, radiation. This is a point of pain for engineers designing crewed spaceships for extended trips.
Radiation is everywhere when you operate in space. Even SpaceX realizes this and plans to build a radiation shelter into the passenger carrying variants of the Starship.
That’s a nice move but the more time you spend out there, the more you are exposed to a high dose of radiation and the accompanying health issue, which are serious and could mar any mars exploration dreams.
Cancer from the radiation is a real risk for ventures like this. Or sterility, which would be a serious blow to any hope of expanding the Mars human population through procreation.
The best way out of this is simply to make the trip faster, which looks doubtful as dictated by the chemistry of burning propellants.
And while Musk wants to put people permanently on mars, NASA is heading there to collect data. Even for unmanned voyages, it is important to get data as quick as possible to justify the huge resources required.
If the Starship makes it to mars, NASA is ready to deploy it to even farther destinations like Neptune. The last time such a thing happened, it took the spaceship, the Voyager-2, twelve years to get there and it only took a handful of stunning pictures during a flyby.
That is enough time for the government of the country to have changed hands and for missions to be cancelled!
If the Voyager-2 had been capable of going faster, astronomers would have gotten their pictures and data faster and even initiated follow up missions.
There is also the problem of carrying enough fuel for long trips. An enormous amount of propellant to needed to escape the pull of the earth. Once that happens, the spaceship may not have enough fuel to go anywhere.
SpaceX is fixing this by setting up a series of space fueling stations to replenish the Starship. But that simply makes the process more complicated and more expensive as it involves about half a dozen other Starships to get a single one fully loaded for Mars.
Space is a massive place and everything is far away, so if you plan to go anywhere, you have to go really fast.
So what can SpaceX do to make the Starship go faster?
There are a couple of options actually.
One of such is using solar sails. But is it any faster?
Here is how solar sails work: you have probably seen sails moving boats forward when wind pushes the sails. The wind consists of air particles that having enough momentum to displace the sails of the ship.
Light from the sun is comprised of photons, which despite not having mass, possess momentum. So if SpaceX fixes enough sails on the Starship, photons from the sun hitting the sails will propel the Starship forward.
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