Each Starship launch has the same payload as three B-52s

Wednesday, August 31st, 2022

Recent talk about hypersonic missiles got me wondering whether SpaceX’s reusable rockets would lend themselves to this role. Austin Vernon suggests that SpaceX’s Starship is America’s Secret Weapon:

B-52s flying from Barksdale AFB to complete a mission in East Asia incur a marginal cost of $50/kg to deliver bombs. Starship’s cost is cheaper and can put weapons on target in less than thirty minutes. Each Starship launch has the same payload as three B-52s.


The supply line would be a natural gas pipeline and a rail line providing fuel and projectiles to a domestic launchpad instead of ships crossing oceans.

I hadn’t considered this though:

Orbital weapons still need intelligence to tell them where to go. Starship’s sister system, StarLink, provides an answer. StarLink is a constellation of thousands of small Low Earth Orbit satellites that gives customers low latency broadband internet. It uses sophisticated phased-array radios that allow ground terminals to track satellites traveling thousands of miles per hour.

As Casey Handmer points out, StarLink can use its radios to do high fidelity synthetic aperture radar (SAR). SAR is already one of the primary ways militaries find enemy ships, and researchers have used it to track planes. It could also see ground vehicles.

While the US already has satellites capable of doing this, they are expensive and limited in number. Individual StarLink satellites cost a few hundred thousand apiece to build and launch on Starship. One of the first things China would do in war is shoot down our military satellites with anti-satellite missiles. That is a problem with bespoke satellites but not with Starlink. Anti-Satellite missiles cost tens of millions of dollars. Each Starship launch could drop off hundred of StarLink satellites. The Chinese would have to expend incredible resources to keep StarLink offline.

A satellite constellation provides other bonuses. Our GPS satellites are both hard to replace and sensitive to jamming. StarLink can provide GPS coordinates (with a few meters less accuracy), and its phased array radios make it difficult to jam.

The upshot is StarLink gives the US survivable sensing, communication, and navigation capabilities.


  1. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Let’s get real! This whole concept of “war” is outdated. As the European are currently demonstrating, their own sanctions against Russian gas, oil, and coal are doing devastating economic & social damage to themselves — albeit slowly.

    If Our Betters were stupid enough to start a war with China (and, sadly, it looks like they are indeed stupid enough), China’s first act would not be to shoot down satellites. Their first act would be to order all the ships anchored off the coast of California carrying they many essentials which the US can no longer manufacture for ourselves to up anchor and return to China.

    A US without Chinese electronics, medications, nuts & bolts would crumble. How many Chinese-sourced components are required to build a Starship?

  2. Jim says:

    Someone balls-deep in rockets, Internet, and brain chips is building de-facto military weapons systems?! Not Elon Musk; I don’t believe it; he would never…!

  3. Bob Sykes says:

    Anyone who thinks war, killing people and breaking things, is outdated is delusional,. Economic warfare, like US oil embargoes on Japan in the 30’s, is usually just the first step in actual shooting.

    Europe did sanctions because they believe they have “soft” power, and that soft power matters. It doesn’t, and they don’t have it anyway. Russia does have soft power, which they are now demonstrating, and they have hard, smash mouth power, which EU/US is about to learn.

  4. Kunning Drueger says:

    So it’s a race to see if Musk gets cancelled by the Progressive Faction before the War Faction kicks off a rapid strategic depopulation conflict. If he gets cancelled and moves to China or Russia, it will be up to our noble trans-warriors to human wave assault the gates of Beijing to ensure Taiwanese pride parades. This is really shaping up to be the worst scifi dystopian YA novel ever written. Hillary Potter and the Cauldron of Wrongthink.

  5. Bomag says:

    “Russia does have soft power… and they have hard, smash mouth power…”


    Aren’t they demonstrating more paper tiger than real tiger?

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