Four years have passed since Musk presented at the International Astronautical Congress. During the meeting he introduced his vision for the Big Falcon Rocket that could fly across the world like an airplane for the modest cost of $2 million dollars a flight. Over the years the rocket evolved into the Starship and rose from the mushroom clouds of explosions into a flightworthy vehicle.
This ambition attracted the interest of the United States Air Force that is burning to replace its vintage fleet of C-17 Globemaster jets. The Air Force is interested in engaging the Starship in its complete configuration with the heavy booster stage to propel 100 tons across the world on short notice. After landing the Starship would be stacked with the booster stage, refueled, and launched again with another payload.
Much of this game plan remains a mystery since there is a wide difference between landing a jet and disembarking a rocket, but there are unresolved questions.
The Starship burns Methox, a deeply frozen cryogenic fuel of methane and liquid oxygen. At ignition, two valves open inside the twin turbopumps on each engine. Part of the fuel is tapped off to a combustor that burns the fuel to produce hot gas. This pressurized hot gas is then fed into a turbine that spins a pump that drives the rest of the fuel into the rocket combustion chamber. Inside the chamber the vaporized fuel meets a spark igniter and is set ablaze. Meanwhile the still very hot gas from the turbopumps is pumped into the combustion chamber to further boost its efficiency by recapturing its energy.
Methox fuel must be stored at cryogenic temperatures close to its freezing point for the Raptors and this demands specialized equipment for refueling. The refueling problem is compounded by the reality that Methox is a serious suffocation and frostbite hazard for the crew handling the rocket. This could seriously limit where the rocket can land.
The trouble of landing the Starship near conflicts is further compounded by the reality that its cargo fairing is 100 feet above the ground. This problem could further entail the installation of specialized equipment near the war zone to unload the cargo. Still the Air Force is aware of this difficulty. They consulted with SpaceX in 2020 and the company recommended building a disposable landing pod that could be dropped from low earth orbit.
The above problems are only technical and they could be solved with determined engineering. The real problems begins when international politics is involved.
The year 1995 got off to a rough start when in January the Norwegians launched a scientific Black Brant rocket. The diplomatic office had been previously notified, but the missile warning radar crews never got the word. Imagine their surprise when the Russian Missile Attack Warning Systems (MAWS) crews detected a missile with a flight path and size similar to that of a Trident nuclear missile heading towards Russia. The crews were so terrified that they notified President Boris Yeltsin of the impending attack. Boris placed the Russian forces on high alert and activated the nuclear briefcase or “cheget”. Then happily he noticed that the missile was heading away from Russia.
The Starship could only compound this hazard when it is launched on flights that take it into vicinity to nuclear armed nations.