This morning (October 20), SpaceX A brief “static fire” test at the company’s South Texas site near Boca Chica’s beach lit three Raptor engines on its SN8 (“serial number 8”).
Neither SpaceX nor the company’s founder and CEO Elon Musk By the time this story was published, he had publicly commented about the trial, but it was well revealed. (SpaceX watchers constantly monitor the Boca Cheeka site, so there is a third-party video of static fire)
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Starship SN8 Static Fire !! First Triple Raptor Static Fire! Mary (@BocaChicaGal) Documentation of history again!October 20, 2020
Static fires, in which the engines ignite while a launch vehicle is grounded, are a common precursor to flight. And the launch of the SN8 is beginning – at the end of this month or later an untested flight that will reach a maximum altitude of about 11 miles (18 kilometers), if all goes according to plan.
It will be the highest ever, a starship prototype. Three previous, single-engine iterations have reached nearly 500 feet (150 m), most recently in August and September of this year, when SN5 and SN6 vehicles took to the skies.
The SN5 and SN6 look like grain silos, as does the SN8 now. But the latest vehicle will look more spaceship-y when it takes flight, sporting a nose cone and orientation-controlling body flap, Musk said.
Those facilities will be installed soon. But the SN8 can fire another static before this happens. In Tweeted last month, Musk said, adding that the SN8 scheme “includes static fire, checkouts, static fire, flying up to 60,000 feet and back.”
Several prototypes are all informing the starship’s final design, which Musk has said will be six Raptors – three “sea level” versions that have been fired this morning, and three “vacuum” variants, much higher. There are nozzle. Optimized for use in space. The 165-foot-tall (50 m) starship vehicle will launch a massive rocket called Super Heavy from Earth, sporting about 30 Raptors of its own.
Both vehicles will be fully and rapidly reusable. SpaceX eventually plans to use starships and super heavy for all its spaceflight needs, ranging from launching satellites to carrying people and payloads to the moon, Mars and other distant destinations.
For example, the starship is underway to provide crewed lunar landing services for NASA Artemis program, Which aims to land two astronauts at the South Pole of the Moon in 2024.
One of the major long-term targets of Musk and SpaceX, the Raptor engine is also well suited for Mars colonization. Raptors are fueled by liquid oxygen and methane, both of which can be made efficiently on the red planet using local resources, Musk emphasized. (Merlin engines, which operate SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, employ liquid oxygen and kerosene.)
Mike Wall, author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Carl Tait), a book about the discovery of alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.