Full Comparison: Saturn V vs Starship

Saturn V took the first Apollo astronauts to the Moon, and soon enough, SpaceX Starship should take people to Mars. Before that happens, we decided to compare Saturn V vs Starship to see which rocket is more impressive in its technical parameters infeasible. Now, however, humanity is set on returning to the Moon and even going beyond it. So, we decided to compare Saturn V vs Starship — two rockets made in the 20th and 21st centuries to take manned crews to their space goals. Wonder which is the most powerful rocket ever built? Read on to find out!

Saturn V vs Starship Size

Saturn V was developed 60 years ago, but this career still has the longest launch history. Active through several Apollo missions between 1967 and 1973, this 110-m high giant was over ten meters in diameter and delivered several astronaut crews to their goals.

SpaceX’s Starship has a very similar height and diameter — 120 m and 9 m, respectively. Still, as far as the comparison of Saturn V and Starship goes, height and diameter are not the primary parameters to consider. Starship will have over 1000 cubic meters of pressurized space with a hundred crew quarters, a kitchen, warehouses, common areas, and other conveniences Saturn V crew could never dream of.

Most importantly, the Starship tanker will be able to refuel directly in orbit, while Saturn V was designed without a refuelling option. So far, the only disadvantage of Starship is that it has never flown yet, but considering SpaceX’s previous success, there is no doubt that this spacecraft will launch.

 Saturn V vs Starship Power

Is Starship more powerful than Saturn V? Yes, indeed. In fact, only the Starship booster stage is almost twice as powerful as the entire Saturn V rocket. However, we must also consider that these rockets are 60 years apart and have different designs. Saturn V has three liquid propellant stages, while Starship will only have two. At the same time, Starship stages will consume more fuel than those of Saturn V, logically resulting in more thrust. More thrust is absolutely essential for the Starship, which will weigh 300 000 kg compared to Saturn’s 187 566 kg. But how much useful payload will it carry? Let’s find out below.

Saturn V Vs. Starship Payload

Payload capacity remains one of the primary factors that determine rocket financial feasibility and technical parameters. Once again, 21st-century tech predictably beats its 20-century predecessor. Since Starship is still in development, we do not have any specs on the carrier’s exact cargo capacity, but according to Orbital Today, SpaceX should carry somewhere between 100 000 and 150 000 kg, depending on the exact orbit destination.

In this regard, Saturn V does come close with its 140 000 kg payload capacity to LEO. Still, we should not forget that Saturn could only deliver 43 500 kg to Trans-Lunar Injection, while Starship will probably ensure twice this much.

Who is Eco-Friendlier Saturn V or Starship?

Both rockets use liquid propellent fuel with liquid oxygen as the oxidizing agent in both cases. However, there are certain differences; Saturn used kerosene for its first booster stage and liquid hydrogen to fuel its second and third stages. In the 21st century, more fuel alternatives are available, so SpaceX’s brainchild will run on liquid methane in both of its stages. Compared to the old-school kerosene/hydrogen combination, methane is more effective in terms of thrust and, more importantly, production. It can even be mined on Mars, which solves the challenge of return trips back to Earth.

As far as eco-friendliness goes, both rockets are rather harmful to the environment and consume a lot of fuel in one launch. And, if we consider that Starship is 60 years older than Saturn, it becomes clear that the 20-century tech was eco-friendlier for its time.

Rockets Reusability & Launch Costs

Despite SpaceX’s not-so-eco-friendly approach, the new launcher will have one major advantage — it will be fully reusable. During the Apollo program, reusability was not even an option because such a possibility arose a decade after the program was curtailed. This, in turn, means that Starship’s development cost is considerably less than that of Saturn V — just $5 billion compared to $50 billion! According to Elon Musk, each Starship launch will cost $1.3 billion. And, while Saturn V launched as part of government missions, the sheer development cost divided by the number of launches made would give us a way higher figure — even without considering the inflation rates.

With all of these technical parameters in mind, it is obvious that Starship is, quite expectedly, a superior rocket. And while there is no doubt that it will leave its mark on space exploration soon enough, Saturn V has already made history by delivering the first people to space and the Moon. And there is no changing that!

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