Bad news, reusable rocket fans.
Single Use Rocket
One SpaceX Starship alone was never going to get us to Mars — that much was clear from the start.
Even getting it beyond Earth's orbit will likely require numerous refueling stops, courtesy of additional Starships. And pulling all that off while recovering all the spacecraft and their Super Heavy boosters would be even more difficult.
Now, despite the fact that Starship was meant to both exponentially increase the amount of payload we can hurl into space and lower costs by being reusable, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has admitted that SpaceX "may or may not" use "expendable" upper stages to carry even more cargo into Earth's orbit.
And that doesn't bode well, considering the large number of huge rocket stages that are already littering our orbit.
An eagle-eyed Twitter user found a mention of an "expendable" Starship configuration that can launch up to 250 metric tons to Earth orbit on SpaceX's website. To put that into perspective, that's more than twice the amount NASA's Saturn V was designed to lift into low-Earth orbit.
When asked what the website was referring to exactly, Musk elaborated that the company had not yet made up its mind whether it wants to develop an "expendable upper stage."
The vagueness of Musk's answer isn't surprising, considering the company has yet to launch a single Starship into orbit, let alone recover it and its booster.
But, as Teslarati points out, Musk has already made mention of a "lightened up Starship with no heat shield or fins/legs" that is the "best choice for the impatient" back in 2019.
In fact, SpaceX is actively working on seemingly expendable Starship prototypes that don't have heat shield tiles or aerodynamic flaps, according to Teslarati, perhaps an indication that they're not designed to safely make it back to the surface.
In short, it's highly unlikely SpaceX will be able to recover and reuse each and every one of the heavy-launch spacecraft and boosters it launches into space. What the company will do with its expended rockets — discarded in a graveyard orbit or sent hurtling back to Earth to at least partially burn up in the atmosphere — remains to be seen.
READ MORE: Elon Musk teases expendable version of SpaceX’s reusable Starship rocket [Teslarati]
More on Starship: Elon Musk Promises Starship Will Attempt Orbital Launch "Soon"