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SpaceX is an all-in for steel starship and scrapped expensive carbon fiber BFR tools

In a totally unanticipated turn of events, SpaceX took the extraordinary step of definitively discarding both the BFR development tent in Port of Los Angeles and what appeared to be the majority of it, which meant the ultimate destroying of bespoke tools To support the production of BFR spacecraft and carbon composite boosters.

SpaceX's state-of-the-art BFR production tools, which cost tens of millions of dollars (USD), were procured by industry expert Ascent Aerospace in 2017 before they were officially delivered. The newly built tent of the rocket company Port of LA opened in April 2018 built. Due to logistical concerns about the high cost of transporting objects with a diameter of 9 m from the main halls of SpaceX in Hawthorne to a transport ship to the east, the company located at the port has opted for its composite tools for the aviation industry less than 1

2 months Clearly destroy after acceptance of delivery. To put it simply, this is the best evidence SpaceX, whether you like it or not, has been using all-in in less than six months to build Starship and Super Heavy stainless steel after CEO Elon Musk started on the extremely radical Point of the program.

SpaceX's Port of LA BFR development tent is no longer in existence after it presumably abolished all content and content on March 14th. (Pauline Acalin)

From the beginning, when SpaceX and Elon Musk were seriously looking for a fully reusable launcher capable of transporting dozens of astronauts and passengers to and from Earth and Mars, the construction was overwhelming Majority planned rocket reinforcements and spacecraft structures made from advanced carbon fiber composites. This basic architecture was motivated primarily by the significant performance gains a rocket could achieve by replacing conventional aluminum tanks and structures with carbon fiber.

For a rocket (and in particular for an orbital spaceship), the transport between Earth and Mars should somehow be routinely and at least extremely affordable, with a focus on optimizing the delivered cargo in relation to the curb weight of the spacecraft and the booster was made (and still does) a lot of sense. Assuming that the reusability of a system is approximately constant, the only conceivable way to further reduce the cost per freight unit or passenger ticket would be to increase the usable cargo / passenger capacity for each individual launch, which is extremely light and high – Performance rocket the low hanging fruit target.

Musk unveiled the first iteration of BFR in 2016 – known as the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS). – Carbon fiber structures were in the foreground. (SpaceX)
SpaceX even built a 12m / 40ft diameter liquid carbon dioxide liquid oxygen tank to begin the process of tech development. (Reddit)

The centrality of carbon fiber composites remained with the iteration of BFR from SpaceX in September 2017, which was reduced by 25% to a diameter of 9m (~ 30ft). About half a year later, this commitment to composites was further consolidated by the delivery of the first 9m diameter carbon fiber tools in March or April 2018. Molds used for molding created the advanced carbon fiber for aerospace structures are inherently expensive and require extremely low tolerances over massive surfaces and volumes to ensure the quality of the equally massive and low-tolerance composite structures they use to build use. Actual prices are often tightly controlled and difficult to determine or extrapolate, but it is safe to say that SpaceX has probably spent months and millions of dollars trying to acquire its large BFR spine.

In the following months of 2018 The SpaceX BFR and Composite R & D team spent tens of thousands of hours building an ad hoc advanced composite workshop in a temporary tent in an industrial area, and finally succeeded to build a full range of carbon fiber segments, including at least one big tank barrel and the beginnings of a tank dome. This progress was partially revealed in September 2018, along with the announcement that Japanese billionaire Yasuka Maezawa had acquired BFR's first BFR launch for several hundred million dollars, which was scheduled for 2023 at the earliest.

Two months after pointing out that the first BFR section "Airframe / Tank Barrel" would be built from a "new carbon fiber" material, Musk was the very first teaser for a "catchy" development that was later identified as the CEO's decision to completely replace the composites proposed by BFR with stainless steel and an advanced metallic heat shield. Almost half a year later, it was still a bit controversial and difficult to follow. The feeling at the time was that SpaceX's eccentric leader had decided to abandon more than 24 months of composite BFR design and development work for an almost unproven alternative approach.

For better or for worse, SpaceX (or perhaps just Musk) seems to have literally ruined the most concrete demonstration of a previous commitment to carbon fiber composites, with most of the composite tools and perhaps even the prototype discarded. BFR segments built in the year 2018.

RIP BFR thorn and tent, we barely knew you. (Pauline Acalin)

It remains to be seen whether the now-lasting decision to pursue a stainless steel construction instead of carbon fibers was a very costly mistake, a stroke of genius or something in between, but undeniably vivid. The progress made with the BFR steel variant in The last four months or so have been a good sign – at least for Musk's optimism that this radical change will eventually lead to an emergency vehicle that is much earlier (and probably cheaper) than the composites route.

In general, it seems safe to agree that Musk's argument that steel should ultimately be much easier for reusability due to its high tolerance for extreme temperatures. Unlike Falcon 9's aluminum designs (and even the most exotic, advanced carbon fiber composites), certain grades of stainless steel can approach the warming that re-enters the orbital area with minimal erosion or damage to mechanical properties. As Musk says, the suborbital trajectory of the Super Heavy Booster may require virtually no heat shielding – and maybe even paint.

Only time will tell if the inevitably harder realities of real engineering are so good. In the meantime, SpaceX may be just hours away from the first attempt at a static fire from a raptor installed on some on-the-fly flight hardware, in this case a full Starship hop test prototype.

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