You can’t blame Elon Musk for having a big fat grin on his face. He’s taken on the aviation and shipping giants, like Boeing, FedEx and DHL, and he’s winning. But instead of using Jumbo Jets, he’s got a fleet of Starships.
As the pioneer of reusable orbital rockets, SpaceX has been launching satellites and sending cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station for years; but some people were still surprised when NASA chose SpaceX to ferry their crews to the Moon and back, even before the first successful landing of the new Starship prototype.
Since then, the gigantic stainless steel Starships have become a familiar sight, launching from and landing back on their converted oil rig platforms, conveniently moored close (but not too close) to strategic launch sites and coastal cities.
But it was the mass production of a fleet of Starlifters – dedicated cargo-carrying Starships – that has disrupted the decades old airfreight business. With a payload of over 100 tonnes, and costing a fraction of the price of a 747, a Starlifter can deliver a full load on a semi-orbital flight from Shanghai to New York in under an hour. And because they only burn fuel for launch and landing, these rocket ships use less than a jetliner.
More importantly, because they launch and land vertically, Starlifters don’t need runways or airports, and don’t need to compete with other air traffic. They’ve got their own dedicated ‘spaceports’ and unique flight paths. That brings a whole new level of efficiency – and cost reduction – to their operation. Just think of the fuel wasted by a traditional cargo plane, while it’s waiting for a landing slot!
Oh, and no pilots either. Computers and engineers do all the heavy lifting, and they’ve reinvented the airfreight industry.