For the first time in the history of humanity, we stand a good chance of walking on the surface of Mars! And this is thanks to the dogged ambition of Elon Musk. The billionaire is building a mighty spacecraft, the Starship, that will take volunteers across the vast distance between Earth and Mars.
However, since the trip will take months in deep space, Musk’s company, SpaceX, has to find a way to protect the travelers from microgravity’s effect during the journey! This is why SpaceX has come up with an artificial gravity Starship! What is this spacecraft, and how does it work? Join us as we explore SpaceX’s insane artificial gravity Starship.
Regardless of whether you think attempting to go to Mars is foolhardy or is not going to work, Elon Musk is forging ahead with his plans to take people from Earth to Mars to live there permanently.
This is the main reason he is building the Starship, the space rocket that promises to be the most powerful ever built! It will be configurable for carrying humans or cargo. The Starship is unique in several aspects. It can lift more than 100 tons to orbit, which is necessary given that lots of tons of cargo have to go ahead of the colonizers.
This will contain systems that will keep them alive. Remember, Mars is a very harsh environment, and special provisions have to be made. Musk has to supply water, food, materials for constructing shelters, machinery for making rocket fuel, and all the work!SpaceX has designed the Starship to consist of an upper and lower stage.
At the point of separation, the lower stage or the Super Heavy booster will return to Earth while the Ship will proceed to Mars after refueling in orbit. To save on cost, both stages of the Starship are completely reusable. The booster returns to the land and is quickly checked out and prepped for the next flight.
It will depend on about 30 Raptor engines for propulsion. The Raptor engines are designed and developed by SpaceX.The upper stage will also re-enter the Earth after each mission, with heat-resistant tile protecting it from getting damaged by the heat produced.
SpaceX plans to make about a thousand of these starships and launch at least three per day. This will allow Elon Musk to quickly reach his goal of one million people on Mars! Of course, the Starship is not meant for Mars trips alone.
NASA plans to use the Starship in its next mission to the moon. The spacecraft will drop the astronauts on the moon’s surface and return them to orbit after they complete their missions. As a cargo carrier, the Starship is relatively simple to design.
However, when the Starship is meant to transport people, some complications begin to show up. For shorter trips, like to the moon, SpaceX won’t have to worry about it because this will last several days.
However, going from Earth to Mars takes months and exposes the passengers to harmful radiation in the harsh environment that the Starship has to pass. But of course, this particular problem can be fixed by putting shields on the Starship. But one other problem that is not easily solved is gravity.
It is an issue that affects astronauts that are not going as far as Mars because they have to keep to a strict regimen of exercise while aboard the International Space Station.
Even this is not always enough, as returning astronauts sometimes have to be stretchered out of their spacecraft when they return from months-long missions.
You might have seen films with a plot based on space travel. Most times, you see a massive spacecraft where the actors live or even fight and shoot at one another
However, most times, the script is silent about gravity in the spacecraft! The travelers that survive whatever the conflict is about get to their destinations, embark, and walk away! Elon Musk would wish to have that luxury, but the real world outside of movies is not so forgiving.
He has to produce some gravity on the Starship! To fully grasp the level of problem SpaceX has to solve when it comes to micro-gravity, here are the effect of microgravity on the human body, as explained by Nitza Cintrn, chief of NASA’s Space Medicine and Health Care Systems Office: In microgravity, bone loss occurs at a rate of 1 to 1.5 percent a month, leading to an acceleration of age-related changes similar to osteoporosis.
Decreases in bone density and strength are more pronounced in some skeletal regions, such as the pelvis, although much of the loss is reversible upon return to Earth. Prolonged exposure to weightlessness also increases the risks of kidney stones and bone fractures, which are both associated with bone demineralization.
In addition, studies suggest that microgravity alters the ability of bones to heal after fractures! Long stays in space also impact muscles. There is a loss of muscle mass, strength, and endurance, especially in the lower extremities.
Changes in muscle performance, coupled with the effects of microgravity on connective tissues and the demands of activities of varying intensities, place astronauts at risk of fatigue and injury. Microgravity also impacts the neuro vestibular system–an integrated set of neural sensory, motor, and brain circuits that allows humans to maintain balance, stabilize vision and understand body orientation in terms of location and direction.
Exposure to microgravity often leads to disorientation and decreased neuromuscular coordination upon return from prolonged missions. Immediately after landing, astronauts may have problems standing up, stabilizing their gaze, walking, and turning.
During prolonged missions, exercise is effective at minimizing large muscle atrophy, and astronauts use a cycle ergometer and treadmill with downward applied pressure to maintain fitness.
These are facts that astronaut Scott Kelly can attest to! He found readjusting to life on Earth hard after spending a year in space as part of NASA’s Twins Study, as detailed in his book Endurance. Since Elon Musk wants the Mars community to be self-sustaining, he must ensure he delivers the travelers there as healthily as possible.
Else, they will all perish, and his plan will come to a disastrous end! Interestingly, while SpaceX is the first company to have to deal with the brutal effect of micro-gravity in actual rocket development, it is not the first to attempt to solve the problem.
One of the earliest examples of micro-gravity solutions was the concept by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, who is considered one of the founding fathers of rocketry and astronautics. As far back as 1903, he published a study titled “Investigation of Outer Space Rocket Devices,” in which he suggested using rotational force to create artificial gravity in space.
Since then, many variations of this idea have been proposed for space stations and habitats, such as the von Braun Wheel, the O’Neill Cylinder, and the Stanford Torus. Some concepts are even being considered for development, such as NASA’s Nautilus-X space station, which would use a rotating torus to provide artificial gravity or the Gateway Foundation’s proposal for a commercial space station.
However, each of these methods has drawbacks that make them impractical or not able to work with the Starship being built by Musk! Some of them have very awkward shapes that will make launching difficult.
Others are too heavy to be practical, while some mechanisms will use too much fuel! Small Stars on YouTube has an excellent concept that will work well with SpaceX’s flagship spacecraft! It uses a system of three Starships that move together.
The system consists of a payload Starship that is flanked on each side by a passenger Starship. The payload bay is filled with a truss that unfolds and deploys robotically, thus serving as the wheel’s spokes.
Each Starship will be launched separately from the Earth but once linked up, the passenger ships would swivel around to reorient themselves and fire their thrusters to impart momentum to the wheel.
Once enough velocity was generated to simulate Earth-normal gravity, which is 9.8 meters per second square or 1 g, the passenger ships would reorient themselves again to face inward towards the hub ship or the center payload Starship.
For the remainder of the journey, those aboard the passenger ships would experience the sensation of being pulled down thanks to the centripetal force created by the rotation of the wheel. As Smallstars explains the design:
“The Gravity Link Starship concept provides a spin gravity that re-uses the main engines, taps leftover fuel, and avoids impractical space construction and spacewalks. The GLS is basically a hub ship, like the hub of a wheel.
Instead of humans and cargo, the payload bay of the GLS is filled with a truss that can robotically fold out and lock into place, serving as the wheel spokes.”What velocity will SpaceX have to achieve to simulate the gravity on Earth on the Starship? Using SpinCalculator, small stars concluded that the system has to attain a rotational velocity of 31 meters per second if the system is about 100 meters long in radius.
This will produce the feeling of 1 g and make three rotations per minute. Smallstars also calculated that this method would use the smallest amount of fuel to start and stop the spinning and prepare the Starships for landing! Of course, travelers will still have to follow strict exercise routines, but they stand a better chance to arrive on Mars in good health!
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