Last Sunday, like Much of the country set in the Super Bowl, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and a crew of engineers were gathered at McGregor, Texas, the small town where the company maintains a rocket test site. For a few seconds in the early evening, the sound of a new engine roared over the flatlands. "First shot of Starship Raptor aircraft engine!" Musk tweeted along with video recordings of the test fire.
The engine will operate SpaceX's upcoming heavy-lift launching system two components: A big rocket called Super Heavy and a crew member called Starship. First introduced by Musk in 2016 at a meeting of the International Astronaut Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, the Starship carrier is designed to carry as many as 100 people to the Moon and Mars. In true SpaceX mode, both rocket and conveyor can be reused: able to start, land and repeat many times.
SpaceX tends to be private about its affairs, but not much goes beyond the company's greatest enthusiasts. In January, eagle observers near the company's Texas facilities showed the appearance of a silver spacecraft on the otherwise flat landscape that Elon Musk confirmed to be SpaceX's Starship. Unlike the iconic black-and-white paint scheme of the Falcon series of rockets, the Starship carrier has a shiny stainless skin that evokes a vintage sci-fi vibe. Musk says the vehicle is a prototype version of the craft that will one day ferry people.
This prototype is now preparing to participate in a series of short flights called the "hop" test. According to the FCC filing, it will perform both low and high altitude aircraft that could climb as high as 16,400 feet. The carrier who wants to perform these flights will be powered by three engines identical to one test fire on Sunday. In December, Musk hinted jumps would begin in early spring. But in January, storms hit up to 50 miles per hour prototype and beat the mooring blocks that got Starship to the ground, Musk reported on Twitter. The necessary repairs can push the test timing out.
The Starship system is the latest in SpaceX's parade of ever larger rockets. One year ago, SpaceX launched and launched its Falcon Heavy Rocket for the first time, generating 5 million pounds of rocket's 27 engines. Ten thousands of spectators watched as two of its three boosters landed in perfect unity at their designated landing zone. (The steering wheel center core failed to land on one of the company's two drone ships.)
It was the only flight of Falcon Heavy so far, but SpaceX says the next launch is estimated to be out of March. As the most powerful launch vehicle on the market today, Falcon Heavy can deliver to the ground path more than twice the load capacity of its counterpart, Falcon 9. But even that cannot help Musk ferrymen to the moon or Mars, an ambition that he has repeatedly repeated times since SpaceX's start. For that, Musk needs Starship.
The Sunday test was not the first time a raptor fired, but it represents the first test of an "aircraft ready" engine. Then SpaceX on Instagram reported that the engine had reached about 60 percent of its power – a landmark for the Starship program. Unlike the engines that currently operate SpaceX & # 39; s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, which use a blend of kerosene and liquid oxygen, Raptor is burned by methane. (SpaceX's competitor, Blue Origin, also develops a methane-fired engine called BE-4.) Mars has a generous supply of methane that could make the tank fill any rockets landing relatively straightforward.
After his hop test, Musk has said he wants to lease Several of the vehicle's design details. Some of its specifications have changed from what he had previously published. For example, when the concept of an interplanetary transport system was first revealed, he had said that the large rocket would be constructed of carbon fiber composites. The debut of a metallic prototype shows that SpaceX followed another tack. Musk say The stainless steel alloy constituting Starship can withstand searing temperatures experienced in the various phases of spaceflight. Similar to the Atlas rockets in the early space program, Starship's metallic skin will not need as much thermal shielding as other materials. And areas that take the bottom of the heat under atmospheric penetration are actively cooled with residual liquid methane. The vehicle will also have landing legs and windows so that passengers on board can see during the flight.
Musk and SpaceX have a lot of riding on this engine as it will drive both the Super Heavy rocket during launch and the Starship spacecraft in space. Last September, SpaceX announced that it had signed its first passenger to fly on the Starship carrier. Yusaku Maezawa and a gaggle artist will start on a weeklong trip to the moon. The mission is planned in 2023, but the development of rockets costs money, and the possibility of SpaceX's Starship has been relevant since the start. So far, Maezawa's tour is the only mission reserved for this vessel, but as SpaceX moves through the design process, and Musk reveals the rocket's potential, several missions could come.
Even Musk knows that the concept of Starship is foreign and refers to its development as "totally insane." According to the director, work on this project and the company's space-based internet effort, called Starlink, is what recently asked SpaceX to restructure its workforce, which accounts for ten percent of its staff. Explaining the SpaceX redundancies in last month's Tesla earnings call (where Musk is also CEO), he described it as a preventive measure, as such massive projects have gone bankrupt with other organizations.
To keep the project out of the way, Musk says SpaceX is planning to build its Starship as quickly as possible. But first, SpaceX must prove that it can safely transport people – starting with another existing rocket and an upcoming trip to the international space station.