Starship will become more powerful, and the US Air Force has already shown an interest in it. How exactly does the military use the most powerful missile in history?

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Starship will become more powerful, and the US Air Force has already shown an interest in it. How exactly does the military use the most powerful missile in history?
Starship will become more powerful, and the US Air Force has already shown an interest in it. How exactly does the military use the most powerful missile in history?

Until now, the payload of the ship, combined in one piece with the rocket, was expected in the region of 100 tons. The new Raptor-2 methane engines will become noticeably more powerful, and the final load of Elon Musk's brainchild will grow to 150 tons. The American Air Force this summer indicated its interest in a new platform - so far for transporting people and goods anywhere in the world in less than an hour. However, a relatively harmless truck is not the main or even the main function of Starship in military affairs. It is likely to shatter the strategic balance between the United States and the rest of the world, including Russia. Let's try to figure out the details.


Any new technology with unusual capabilities quickly attracts the attention of the military. In the 1930s, Wernher von Braun was thinking about rockets for Mars, and the business ended with the construction of the V-2 and shelling of London. Today we are witnessing another story of this kind: the colossal Starship being created for the colonization of Mars occupies the thoughts of the American military. What will come of this in practice?

Starship upgrade: new engines, completely different possibilities

Elon Musk recently announced that new engines - Raptor-2 - will be made for the "stainless steel rocket". As the name suggests, this is an upgrade to the conventional methane-oxygen Raptor. But their thrust will no longer be 200, but 230 tons - and this is an important factor. The higher the thrust-to-mass ratio of a reusable rocket, the more efficiently it spends fuel - and the less "parasitic weight" in the form of engines and their supporting structures it will have to carry.


As a result, the modifications are aimed at raising the payload from 100 tons, which were discussed until recently, to 150 tons - one and a half times. This significantly improves the entire economy of the project, since it will allow the carrier to launch much more cargo into space for about the same money.

And it is with this load that the military Earths can seriously change the entire strategic balance on our planet. And in such a way that it will trigger an arms race that can make even the era of the Cold War fade.

Air Force Freighter: Back to the Future from the 1960s?

About half a century ago, the US Air Force suddenly realized that a missile-based assault was radically faster and often more convenient than a military transport aircraft. The latter sounds strange, but it is a fact. The fact is that the range of military transport "Hercules" with a heavy load on board is not so great. This means that in order to deliver something to a remote part of the world, intermediate landings are needed. If you include all of them in the schedule, it turns out that the delivery of people or cargo over ten thousand kilometers may take more than one day, and the military appreciates the fastest possible response.

It is very likely that the concept of "instantaneous" transfer of forces on a rocket was influenced by the science fiction of the time, namely, Heinlein's Starship Troopers. Interestingly, the original title of the book is Starship Troopers. Now it is quite possible to translate it as "Paratroopers of the Starships" - at least, it is Elon Musk's Starship that makes the very possibility of a quick transfer of military personnel to any part of the planet really real.


Of course, there are a number of limitations to consider here.Firstly, Starship consists of two stages: the landing can only transfer the second, integrated with the ship. It is planned to have a pressurized volume of more than 1100 cubic meters and the ability to transport up to several hundred people in one flight. However, the second stage by itself from an unprepared point on the surface of the Earth will not be able to take off: there will not be enough fuel for this.

Yes, theoretically, the second stage without a payload, but with a full charge of methane and oxygen, it can actually start and then land at the desired point. Consequently, having delivered cargo or people to a remote American military base, the fueled upper part of the Starship is able to return to the United States, where it will be combined with the first stage of the same carrier. And, accordingly, they will be used again for the transportation of goods.

But if there is no oxygen and methane at the military base where the delivery will take place, no second part of the Starship will be able to return from there. It is not so difficult to create capacities for storing liquid oxygen and methane: liquefied methane in the United States is already used on a daily basis, and liquid oxygen is not fundamentally more difficult to store and transport. But the organization of launch pads, a rocket fueling system on the take-off field and other "small parts" will not be so simple. Cramming it into every Bagram on the globe is not a cheap task even for the US Air Force, with its budget of $ 200 billion a year (three of Russia's total military budgets).


Secondly (and most importantly), it should be understood that such transportation can be carried out only outside the context of active hostilities with developed states. That is, if you need to deliver cargo to the conditional Afghanistan, it is still possible, since it does not have (or almost no) working MANPADS, and it is not so easy to shoot down Starship from the 1946 DShK.

But if we are talking about situations when a conflict with China or with Russia is possible, then the launch of a Starship-type transport from Russian missile attack warning satellites will look quite similar to, for example, the launch of a ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead from the Gulf of Mexico (the SpaceX cosmodrome is located nearby with a bay). How to understand that this is an innocent transfer of forces or the start of a nuclear war?

Of course, with more frequent Starship civil flights, the tension about such launches will decrease, but they are unlikely to begin daily flights in the next ten years.

Space bomber?

Starship's key parameter is the price of delivering cargo to orbit. SpaceX's target of $ 5 million per launch is achievable in theory. Firstly, the weight of an empty Starship is about the same as that of a Boeing 777, only the largest space carrier in history is made of welded stainless steel, and not riveted from aluminum alloys. This means that the cost of Starship will be close to the price of an avilayer, in the region of a couple of hundred million dollars. The expected reusability of the system is at least one hundred launches. It is easy to see that the cost of materiel is planned here below two million dollars for departure.

Secondly, although Starship will use thousands of tons of fuel at each launch, its cost is not that great. Liquefied methane and oxygen are not that expensive, only hundreds of thousands of dollars to start up.

$ 5 million for a 150-ton space transport - less than $ 35 per kilogram of payload. Even if the real figure at the first stage is $ 50 per kilogram of cargo, this is not much.

It is worth comparing this with the B-2 bomber, an analogue of which is still being developed in Russia. The one costs 3.3 billion dollars apiece - like a dozen Starships. The B-2 flight hour is more than $ 0.15 million ($ 0.13 million in 2010 prices - or more than $ 0.15 million in modern prices). It flies at subsonic speed, and normally it takes a dozen flying hours to drop ammunition (up to 27 tons). It turns out that the B-2 will spend more than $ 55 per kilogram to dump a ton of ammunition.

And Starship, as we have shown above, targets at $ 35 per kilogram, even at the first stage - no more than $ 50 per kilogram.Paradoxically, but true: Musk is creating a rocket that delivers cargo into space cheaper than the B-2 strike plane delivers bombs in the earth's atmosphere without going out into any space.

At the same time, the B-2, calling things by their proper names, it is quite possible to shoot down, having the S-300 or more advanced air defense systems. Needless to say, the Starship flies so much higher than the B-2 that it cannot be shot down.

Thus, as a bomber, the Elon Musk carrier is both cheaper and less vulnerable than existing American-made strategic bombers. This is his huge plus, on the one hand. On the other hand, of course, there is a minus: the peculiarities of the process of assimilating budgetary money in the American military-industrial complex are such that not everyone there will be happy with the appearance of such a promising competitor.

But Starship also has a trump card that can silence even rivals sponsoring lured generals from the US Air Force: speed. No B-2 can suddenly strike a country unpleasant to Washington within an hour after takeoff. The United States does not yet have hypersonic weapons, and if it does appear, the price of delivering a ton of ammunition to them will be clearly higher than that of Starship (the announced projects of hypersonic weapons in the United States in an economic sense are much more expensive than even B-2).


The ability to deliver a quick global strike is something for which the US military will be able to come to terms even with the cheapness of the Starship. So, it is quite likely that we will see the creation of a space bomber based on the SpaceX carrier.

Of course, everything is not so simple here. It is difficult to bomb with ordinary bombs and rockets from space: they will burn up in the atmosphere. In theory, it is possible to drop them from the Starship's stratosphere, but in practice it is not easy, and the risks from air defense systems will increase dramatically.

Therefore, to replace the bombs, you will have to do something different. For example, tungsten crowbars already declared by the American Air Force for bombing from orbit. The last time this was written about in the open press, it was about rods (with rudders at the tail) 6, 1 meters long, 0.3 meters in diameter and weighing about nine tons (tungsten is very dense). The deflection of such a rod upon impact from space was estimated at no more than 30 meters. It is easy to calculate that at a speed of 3.4 kilometers per second, its kinetic energy will be greater than that of a dozen tons of TNT. Upon hitting the target, it will be released as in the explosion of the Chelyabinsk meteorite, giving an explosion sufficient to disable even the largest warship.

Nothing prevents bombing from Starship and something more complicated than crowbars. Let's say the United States has W88 thermonuclear warheads with an estimated mass of hundreds of kilograms each. These warheads are known to have enviable accuracy. Each of them is a cone 175 centimeters long and up to 55 centimeters in diameter at the widest part. Why don't the Americans change their shape to cylindrical and their equipment to tungsten or depleted uranium or to a classic warhead with explosives inside? In this case, the States will receive something like the Russian "Zircon", only one that can hit the desired target anywhere in the world - and faster than an hour after the start of the combat mission. Given the payload of the Starship, it can be loaded with at least a hundred warheads for a global instant strike. It turns out that no strategic bomber in human history has ever had such capabilities as Starship.

I must say, these simple estimates are just the beginning. Perhaps, over time, more accurate and less extravagant ammunition will appear for the space bomber. The main thing is not in them, but in the very appearance of a platform capable of dropping ammunition over any point in the world at prices lower than that of the B-2 strategic bomber.

Real Star Wars?

In the 1980s, there was a lot of talk in the United States about a program to deploy combat lasers in space, designed to shoot down Soviet nuclear warheads in the space segment of the trajectory. The laser looked better than anti-missiles: its beam is much faster than any missile.It all came down to the cost and scale of the task: colossal capacities were needed to shoot down a nuclear warhead. It is difficult and, most importantly, expensive to ensure the availability of such super-powerful systems in orbit. Indeed, in the 80s, the States traveled to space on prohibitively expensive shuttles, whose flights were much more expensive than those of rockets involved in flights to the moon.


Starship completely changes this situation. First, it can launch into space a ready-made structure of cyclopean dimensions assembled on Earth - large internal volumes allow it to do so. Secondly, as we have already noted, the target withdrawal price is a few tens of dollars per kilogram. At such prices, even one percent of the US military budget is enough to launch 200,000 tons of cargo into space per year.

What can be assembled in orbit from laser systems with a total mass of 200 thousand tons? For example, something like DESTAR - a platform of powerful lasers combined into one group, emitting according to the principle of an active phased array. Such a group can seriously change the direction of its "collective" radiation, while itself remaining motionless.

Has a Russian or Chinese nuclear warhead taken off from Earth? DESTAR is able to accompany it with powerful laser radiation. And it is rather doubtful that after that she will enter the atmosphere fully functional. After all, the DESTAR project originally counted on destroying and deflecting asteroids. This system is modular, if desired, its power can be increased to gigawatts. Already with ICBMs such a design will quite cope.

Perhaps from a military point of view, this is the most promising of the Starship applications - much more interesting than the bombardment with tungsten crowbars offered by the US Air Force.


DESTAR, which is assembled by Starship flights, is especially attractive because this system will easily and easily bypass the restrictions of any international treaties such as START. None of these agreements prohibit the creation of anti-asteroid systems to protect the Earth from objects such as the one that killed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. And there will be no such agreements: saving the planet from asteroids is an important humanitarian goal. It would be foolish to seek to ban it just because such "anti-asteroid protection" at the right time is not worth using as an anti-missile defense. Any protests of Russia or China in this direction will be easily reflected by the Western press in the style of "totalitarian states out of their minds are trying to take away from humanity a bright, steroid-free future."

This is a win-win option, so we are not faced with the question of whether the US military will go for it or not. The question is different: when exactly will they implement it?

Moreover, from the point of view of scientific and technical progress, such actions can only be welcomed. It is obvious that even the beginning of the deployment of such systems is impossible without cheap reusable carriers such as Starship. Neither Russia nor the PRC is developing anything of the kind. This means that after the start of the American program for the construction of the "Death Star" (with the help of Starship), both Beijing and Moscow will inevitably be forced to speed up national programs to create analogues of the American private carrier. And this, like any competition in the field of high technologies, is very good.

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