Cargo Rockets: Is the Idea Technically Feasible? Yes. Is it practicable? It depends.
Many factors are in favor, and on a technical level the Pentagon's idea of using cargo rockets for expeditions is perfectly feasible. Costs and realization times, however, are by no means obvious and easy, and this could make the idea impractical, or completely impractical.
A rocket taking off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California could theoretically enter low Earth orbit and re-enter the atmosphere virtually anywhere on the planet.
Missile travel would have staggering implications, primarily for military transport. A C-17 Globemaster III heavy transport flying at 500 miles per hour, for example, takes 12 hours to get from California to Okinawa, Japan, an island practically on the doorstep of China (why did this just come to mind?). Cargo rockets, however, could make the journey in less than 30 minutes.
Cargo rockets do not need a chain of tankers for aerial refueling, nor permission to fly over foreign countries on a long and winding flight route. Rockets are (for now, anyway) capable of going without any country being able to shoot them down, and along the most imaginable routes.
The capacity? Wide
Think of moving the equivalent of a C-17 payload anywhere in the world in under an hour
Gen. Stephen R. Lyons, Chief of the Pentagon Transportation Department
He was wrong by default. SpaceX, a massive 50-meter (160-foot) high rocket, developed Starship cargo rockets to transport people and cargo to the Moon, Mars, and possibly beyond. Compared to a C-17 aircraft, it can carry even more cargo (100 tons against the 85 of the C-17).
There are two possible modes of transport under exam. The first involves a direct flight from a space base to an arrival point. The second involves pre-positioning supplies in orbit on a spacecraft that could rapidly deorbit and land when needed. Both could deliver the goods in minutes.
It might work?
There is nothing to suggest it won't. SpaceX has launched nearly 100 rockets so far, with only two full or partial failures. Equally important on a refueling mission is a successful landing and the company is setting record after record in this thing.
A real problem, however, is time. While the actual space flight can take only 30 minutes, a space transport mission could take days, weeks, or even months. A rocket must be prepared for space flight, a process that includes mounting it on the launch pad, powering the rocket, and installing the payload of the cargo.
Cargo rockets could then only be launched in relatively good weather. Bad conditions can cause delays of up to a week.
Storing cargo aboard satellites would ensure a quick response, bringing the right supplies into orbit early would solve the problem.
The biggest problem at the moment? The usual: money.
The launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 spacecraft capable of carrying 25 tons costs $ 28 million. SpaceX estimates that the Starship rocket could cost much less, up to $ 2 million per launch. However, a 12-hour flight from California to Japan in a C-17 Globemaster III currently costs $ 312.000.
To this cost must be added that of an aerial refueling tanker such as the Stratotanker KC-135. Nevertheless, even with the best estimates, currently transporting cargo rockets would cost four times more than sending the same cargo by plane.
However, cost isn't everything, especially when bullets are flying. Although space transportation is still too expensive to become a peacetime military activity, if the Transportation Command and SpaceX come up with a plan to quickly prepare and launch cargo rockets, this could become a useful alternative during a possible war.
And when everything is missing, Amazon Space will deliver that Japanese steak to us in half an hour in the future :)
Gianluca Riccio, born in 1975, is the creative director of an advertising agency, copywriter and journalist. He is affiliated with Italian Institute for the Future, World Future Society and H +, Network of Italian Transhumanists. Since 2006 he directs Futuroprossimo.it, the Italian resource of Futurology.
Futuroprossimo.it is an Italian resource of futurology opened since 2006: every day news about the near future. Scientific discoveries, medical research, prototypes, concepts and predictions about the future for free.
Gianluca Riccio, copywriter and journalist - Born in 1975, he is the creative director of an advertising agency, he is affiliated with the Italian Institute for the Future, World Future Society and H +, Network of Italian Transhumanists.