So this seems crazy but in all honesty it has actually been a thing for a long time. It is mentioned in a lot of sixties/seventies SF not focused on space flight. It was seriously studied several times as a sort of replacement for parachute insertion of military force. And like most of those sorts of efforts there was a commercial concept to support the technology since the folks in the defense industry understood that military programs cannot support a robust industry on its own.
Just look at nuclear power, there was a reason that nuclear power stations evolved as the Navy came to realize they wanted nuclear ships. And there is a reason that small aircraft carriers and non nuclear submarines are anathema to certain parts of the Naval establishment. They know that if non nuclear CVs and SSs became common the industry required to support the nuclear fleet would become unaffordable.
People have already talked about the DoD buying Starships and using them as bombers / hypersonic weapons platforms. This is just turning the model above around.
Back in medieval times freighters and warships were the same thing, they just tacked on some fighting platforms and went at it with bows, crossbows, catapults, swords, etc. Even the Vikings probably started out as traders though always ready to ‘raise the black flag and slit a few throats’ if that looked like the right business strategy.
Anyway…sorry for the side commentary, it’s evening and I had a good dinner so I’m wandering a bit.
So, again anyway…if you look at it, a craft like the Starship, which has the performance as a single stage vehicle to haul 100 tons 10,000 miles in less than an hour has some attraction on its face….but in reality?
- To my mind the most value dense time sensitive cargo is people but that’s years out at the least.
- In the meantime are there cargos that are so time sensitive that something like a starship might make sense?
- Couriered documents. Maybe
- Mail. Does not seem like it.
- Medical supplies only if the ship could land almost anywhere and take off again.
- High value tech like chips? Maybe but 100 tons is overkill.
- In fact most of the above are not 100 ton class cargos and frequency and flexibility of landing seem critical.
So dead on arrival? No there are customers who might pay for a a limited 100 ton capability. I think it would need to be anywhere in the world which is more than 10,000 miles but is probably within the capability of a modified Starship with more fuel and less cargo…or maybe an extended tank Starship could do 100 tons out to 18,000 miles (my wag of anywhere in the world from anywhere in the world.)
A somewhat smaller starship could do 10 tons 18,000 miles and probably land at just about any port or airfield as long as you can supply LOx and LNG, which is not that uncommon.
Go back to the start. If you burn a couple of hundred tons of LOx/LNG what is the cost? Does it make economic sense? Is it safe, is it going to be acceptable?
- LOx/LNG are in the same $/ton range as Jet fuel, you are burning a couple of times the fuel since you have to haul up the oxidizer with you and pay for that as well so say 4x the fuel bill.
- The hull is in line with a modern airline.
- If you can do a trip a day or so with support costs in the same range as a jet, it would appear to me that for the right cargo you could make it work.
- Is it safe?
- Well not right now but once the tech is wrung out ?? I think so.
- the big difference is much higher energies than a jet.
- But…your exposure time is a fraction of that of a jet over the same range. Accidents in mid flight are rare but generally lead to complete loss. Exposure time is probably the most important difference…advantage Point to Point
- Ok so the major threat time is when you are near the ground around take off and landing, Those are shorter for the Point to Pointer.
- And to me the difference in energy involved is immaterial…dead is dead and most of the time accidents of any magnitude in those phases are not survivable.
- Accidents on the runway often have survivors but that is eliminated in the Point to Point case…up and down…no in between…
- Only time will tell, my guess is YES.
- It will be a bit like the glamor days of the early airliners I would expect point to point for certain segments to be a real elite punch card
- Especially as near earth space becomes an exotic but achievable location.
Exciting times indeed.