- establishing an initial infrastructure on the Moon -


SpaceX is rapidly developing a truly revolutionary spacecraft. If that development proves to be successful, it will change everything. If successful, history will point to the Starship as being the vehicle that started humanity's move off Earth.

To his credit, Elon Musk has continued to evolve the design of the Super Heavy booster and its upper stage, the Starship. SpaceX seems to have an urgency to get the Starship and Super Heavy booster built and flying as soon as possible. In his 2016 Guadalajara speech, Elon probably gave the explanation for this urgency. He stated that he thought that this effort would turn into a large public-private program and that that would happen only when his super heavy vehicle started showing real progress. The sooner that he can demonstrate that it is real, the sooner he could establish a working relationship with NASA and thereby receive the funding necessary to complete the development and start operations. Delaying the development would only mean NASA spending more money along other lines and progress towards Elon's vision for Martian settlement being unnecessarily delayed.

SpaceX is presently building two competing copies of the StarHopper which will be a test article to conduct increasingly high hops and so learn how the Starship can land tail-first. Videos of those increasing hops will be a media sensation and will likely cause the public and the decision-makers to increasingly question why NASA is pursuing its current path rather than partner with SpaceX on a clearly more capable design. But, we need to bear in mind that, even for SpaceX, setbacks do happen and so will likely delay the date when we watch a Starship land on the Moon and go to Mars.

It is here proposed that a formal "tipping point criteria" be set for when policy makers to transition from support for the Space Launch System (SLS) super heavy lift vehicle (SHLV) to the Starship as part of a public-private program.

At what point would it be reasonable to say that the Super Heavy and Starship is fairly likely going to succeed and be superior to the SLS? Although the Starship is intended to be fully reusable, demonstration of full reusability is not necessary for the Super Heavy Starship to be superior to the SLS. Instead, the Starship need only to reach orbit to demonstrate superiority to the SLS. That is because, at 100 metric tons to low Earth orbit (LEO), the Starship would be more capable that the SLS Block 1b and nearly as capable as the SLS Block 2 (120 metric tons to LEO). And SpaceX's plans to dock tanker versions of the Starship in LEO and fully refuel the Starship means that it would be far more capable than the SLS. And docking is nearly a "gimme". The US has not had a docking failure in over 40 years. Also, based upon SpaceX's now routine recovery of the Falcon 9 first stage, recovery of the Super Heavy booster can also be considered a gimme in that, with time, it is reasonably expected that they will perfect that. Recovering a super heavy booster will make SpaceX's SHLV far less expensive than the SLS which has no such recovery.

So, it is here proposed that the tipping point criteria for the Super Heavy Starship be when the Starship first reaches orbit. This would be the first time that it would be demonstrated that the new SpaceX transport system will likely be superior in both price and capability compared to the SLS.

It would be helpful if space advocates were to generally get the word out about this criteria so as to generate discussion about when space policy should transition to support the Super Heavy Starship and to get the decision makers ready to transition their support.

When the Starship achieves orbit, policy-makers should transition their support away from government transport systems and form a public-private program with SpaceX.

Next: The Starship Tipping Point