SpaceX
Bleeding Fuel

NASA Chief: SpaceX’s Starship Tougher Than Any NASA Project, Ever

Elon Musk's Mars plan is "orders of magnitude" harder than any NASA project in history, a NASA leader warned.

Orders of Magnitude

In a new interview with Business Insider, the director of the Space Technology and Exploration Directorate at NASA Langley warned that Elon Musk’s proposed Starship design was going to be “orders of magnitude” more difficult than any NASA project in history.

“It won’t be easy for us or SpaceX,” Walt Engelund told Business Insider.

Sweating Bullets

Engelund’s specific concern is Musk’s plan to cool the rocket by “bleeding” fuel through small pores. He asked what would happen, for instance, if a “bird poops on your rocket and it plugs up a few holes.”

“I’ve seen instances where you’ll get one clogged channel… and it will immediately result in burn-throughs,” the chief engineer told the business magazine. “A model will disappear in a hypersonic wind tunnel. It almost vaporizes, there’s so much energy and so much heat.”

Élan Musk

At the same time, Engelund admitted, SpaceX is bringing unprecedented energy and creativity to the private space industry, so he doesn’t rule out Starship succeeding — and he foresees further collaboration between the two organizations.

“They’ve surprised a lot of people, and have a lot of smart people working for them, and Elon seems to be really committed and dedicated to this,” Engelund told Business Insider. “Perhaps there are some things that we could do with them. I suspect there will be.”

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