We read that Elon Musk is focusing not only on designing a functional new space vehicle, but almost foremost on creating a production line of Starship. In addition to the existing and expanding Texas site a new Los Angeles production site is planned.

Elon Musk has demonstrated his capacity to set up industry production activities, with cars and satellites, with a market in view.

What is the purpose of an industrial effort of that scale ? The vehicle is reusable by design and has a huge capacity so what is the purpose of producing a Starship per week, or more? Were is the market?

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    $\begingroup$ A trip to Mars requires 7 launches in short sequence - 1 main launch and 6 orbital refuelings all the while cryofuels boil off, so you can't space them by months, and wait for refurbishing a landed 'tanker' to re-launch it, you need 6 waiting ready for launch. And you're not getting the one launched to Mars back, for years, if ever. $\endgroup$ – SF. Mar 12 '20 at 19:21
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    $\begingroup$ A hundred and twenty years ago, a similar question might have been asked of Henry Ford. $\endgroup$ – Criggie Mar 13 '20 at 3:00
  • $\begingroup$ Because the ones they build seem to keep self-destructing? $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Mar 13 '20 at 16:57
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    $\begingroup$ It's worth considering that even for something produced slowly in quite low numbers, the production facility may be arranged as a "production line". The term doesn't only apply to huge, heavily automated car-manufacturing-style setups. $\endgroup$ – ikrase Mar 15 '20 at 1:12

Musk is creating a Starship "production line", because obviously, he wants a lot of Starships. This aligns with the company's goal of "making humanity a multi-planetary species".

As for "where is the market?": It doesn't exist yet. Currently, SpaceX's attitude towards space is "build it and they will come". Many large scale investment organizations believe that space is the "next trillion-dollar market" and SpaceX is hoping that by lowering launch costs, with both Falcon 9 and Starship, they will create an environment where these new companies can come into existence. Additionally, Starlink will require several thousand satellites and is owned by Musk. This makes Starlink satellites the perfect first payloads for Starship.

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    $\begingroup$ Aside from the inevitability of resources becoming scarce, one would think the potential for pandemics would create a market for colonizing multiple planets... $\endgroup$ – user27796 Mar 13 '20 at 6:15
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    $\begingroup$ Right now, the production line is mostly intended for engineering Starship to a point where it doesn't blow up. Many design iterations in as short a time-frame as possible (not my opinion, Musk clearly stated so). Might be nice to add tat to the answer. $\endgroup$ – Sixtyfive Mar 13 '20 at 9:24
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    $\begingroup$ Thomas J. Watson Jr. (I.B.M.) “I think there is a world market for about five computers.” $\endgroup$ – Jeffrey Mar 13 '20 at 22:46
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    $\begingroup$ @JeffreysupportsMonica: if you take efficiency into account, it turns out he was about right. We have Google, Azure, IBM, Salesforce, and Amazon. What I have on my desk right now is more a very expensive space heater which also does a tiny bit of computing on the side. $\endgroup$ – Jörg W Mittag Mar 14 '20 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Jeffrey Thomas J. Watson Jr. did not say that. $\endgroup$ – cjs Mar 15 '20 at 1:35

Bob Zubrin, of Mars Direct fame, has been critical of the SpaceX Mars plan. He suggests that it makes no sense to send a full Starship too Mars, instead use it to launch the Mars vehicle and just use Starship to bring payload and fuel.

Most of the concern revolves around the fact each Starship sent to Mars is committed for almost two years.

In normal aerospace planning, he is correct. In Musk aerospace planning, he missed the point.

Musk proposes a fleet of 1000 Starships flying each launch window to Mars, once the effort gets going seriously. Now that is clearly an exaggeration but his point is, lots and lots of Starships will be required each Mars launch window, which is about every 2 years.

Additionally, consider that the initial plan was two Starships in the first launch interval (Hey 2022 could still happen!). Then 6 in the next. That would tie up potentially 8, ignoring the number needed to be available to refuel them in orbit (which is 5 or 6 launches of tankers). Plus the number needed for the rest of the launch market.

Once you commit to needing about 10 or more in a 4 year period, you might as well start to build them on an assembly line. And if your goal is at least aspirationally having 1000 available at once, then it is clear that the current approach has some reason behind it.

Additionally, each Starship needs 43 (? Number keeps changing but about 40 and a few) Raptor engines. So already with 10 needed in 4 years, that is over 400 engines. The aspiratonal goal needs a stupidly crazy number of engines (Though only 6 for the upper stage, rest are on the smaller number of Super Heavys that will be required).

Now you could do this the SLS way and spend billions per vehicle, and build one every 2 years (If you fly one booster every two years, you are building at a functional rate of 2 years per booster), or go all out and build dozens to 50 a year. Musk clearly decided to aim for the latter, even if it takes a while to get there.

He has demonstrated how fast they can iterate in Boca Chica as in less than a year they built the battleship Hopper that flew, Mk1 (that failed on the pressure test), the two test tanks (that they tested to destruction), SN1 (which failed on the pressure test), the SN2 test tank (Which passed the pressure test), and SN3 (under construction as of this writing, but moving very very fast).

Starlink is a very clever project. It is a revenue source for the company once deployed. But it requires a astonishing number of launches. Even 60 at a time in a Falcon 9 will take 70+ launches. But Starship is neither mass nor volume limited to the same degree Falcon 9 is, and would be able to launch several hundred at once.

Every vehicle needs someone to take the risk on launching the first few times, and Starlink is ready and waiting. They are building Starlink satellites so fast, that if they lose a payload on an early flight, just move on to the next one. So they have a payload for the first 5-10 Starship flights to prove it out.

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    $\begingroup$ Can you cite a source where Zubrin was critical? I thought I read an article by him a few weeks ago that complimented Musk while noting the differences between what Musk is trying to do and Zubrin's original Mars Direct plan. $\endgroup$ – Joe Mar 12 '20 at 20:11
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    $\begingroup$ Where have you read that the SLS takes only 2 years to build? The first one has been under construction for 6 years and is only partially completed. It would defeat the point of the effort put into the construction process by the Senate to have it completed after only 2 years, anyway... $\endgroup$ – TylerH Mar 12 '20 at 21:03
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh Love you too Uhoh. In my defense, I try to write it, and then find the sources. $\endgroup$ – geoffc Mar 12 '20 at 23:31
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    $\begingroup$ sources? it's been 15 hours $\endgroup$ – spacetyper Mar 13 '20 at 2:09
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    $\begingroup$ " Now that is clearly an exaggeration" Source? I agree that Musk has grand vision, but what is the upper limit of starships one would send per launch window? $\endgroup$ – NPSF3000 Mar 13 '20 at 4:10

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