Most modern orbital launchers like the SpaceX Falcon9 have their payload at the front covered by a fairing which splits in half, ejecting the fairings and exposing the payload for deployment.

enter image description here

With the SpaceX Starship the last stage is fully reusable, so it can't eject fairings because it will need that protective skin for landing.

I havn't seen any mockups or animations show how this would work. Most are of crewed mission which don't have a need for payload deployment. However we know that SpaceX intends the Starship superheavy to eventually take over all of the missions currently using the Falcon 9.

How will payload deployment work on the SpaceX Starship?

  • $\begingroup$ I'm new to this site, can you please explain why the downvote, is this question out of scope for this site? is there some other issue with the question. I'm trying to learn. $\endgroup$
    – trampster
    Commented Jan 20, 2019 at 21:07
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Nothing wrong with the question, beyond some spelling quibbles. Ignore the DV. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 20, 2019 at 21:22
  • $\begingroup$ I'm pretty sure SpaceX hasn't really divulged this information. The only cargo loading/unloading I've heard about regarding the 'ITS' was when Elon was asked how cargo is going to be lowered to the Martian surface and he said that there would be a "crane". This crane is also visible on some Mars landing cgi pictures. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Commented Jan 20, 2019 at 22:09
  • $\begingroup$ A good question. Alas, not sure anyone knows the answer yet, so you may have to wait till SpaceX reveals more info. $\endgroup$
    – geoffc
    Commented Jan 20, 2019 at 22:15
  • $\begingroup$ "The last stage is fully reusable". That pretty much says it all. Like the Space Shuttle, making the 2nd stage the last stage limits application and is an engineering dead end. This shortcoming may be overcome by shear numbers, but one may ask why not have the Starship push a third stage (with fairings) into orbit? Look at the size proportions of the Saturn V 2nd and 3rd (and 4th) stages. Amazingly, the escape tower on the command module provides a scale model for the third stage on the 2nd! Can our engineers use this approach again 50 years later? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 11, 2021 at 5:23

2 Answers 2


Musk's IAC2017 presentation included a "chomper" variant for large cargos: enter image description here

Source: http://spaceflight101.com/spx/wp-content/uploads/sites/113/2017/09/IAC2017-Musk-26.jpg

His 2018 announcement included aft cargo holds, around the engines: https://i.imgur.com/wfdTvCe.png

There's also at least one side hatch. If you're launching a group of small satellites, you could use a carousel or rail system that deploys them through that.


As per March 2020 with the release of the Starship users guide more details emerged: Starship payload deployment sequence

"To deploy the payload, the clamshell fairing door is opened, and the payload adapter and payload are tilted at an angle in preparation for separation. The payload is then separated using the mission-unique payload adapter. If there are multiple payloads on a single mission, a rotating mechanism can be provided to allow each satellite to separate with maximum clearance. Once separation is confirmed and the payload(s) have cleared the fairing, the payload fairing door is closed in preparation for Starship’s return to Earth." Starship users guide p 3.


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