SpaceX founder Elon Musk is hell-bent on colonizing Mars. The Chief Engineer leads Starship development at the sandy Boca Chica Beach village in South Texas. This week, Musk shared an awesome photograph of a fleet of Starship Raptor engines inside a hangar at the Starbase rocket factory (shown above). “Raptor 2 rocket engines at Starbase, each producing over half a million pounds (230 tons) of force,” Musk captioned the photo via Twitter. Starship is destined to become the world’s most powerful rocket, right next to the Saturn V that launched NASA Apollo 8 astronauts to the Moon half-a-century ago.
NASA signed a deal with SpaceX to develop a lunar-optimized Starship to return astronauts to the Moon by 2025. For Musk, the moon is just a stepping stone, his eyes are firmly set on setting foot on Mars. SpaceX specially developed the Raptor with Mars in mind. The engines are fueled by a combination of cryogenic liquid Methane (CH4) and cryogenic liquid oxygen (LOX). When the first astronauts build the first human settlement on the Red Planet, they will be able to build a propellant plant to synthesize CH4 and LOX by extracting carbon dioxide from the planet’s thin atmosphere and digging subsurface ice-water to create fuel via the Sabatier process and electrolysis.
Image Source: SpaceX
The Raptor is the first full-flow staged combustion rocket engine ever flown. It has been refined over the years, the newest iteration of the methane-fueled engine known as Version 2 (V2). In comparison to the first version (V1), V2 is a complete redesign that features less complex turbomachinery but it yields more power because it can take in more fuel. Engineers completely reworked the nozzle, combustion chamber, plumbing, and electronics to enhance the engine's efficiency. The company says it features “More Power, Less Parts”. Raptor V2's are welded together which helps to reduce the number of components that comprise the engine, making V2 more compact and easier to manufacture than the Raptor V1 which needed flanges to bolt all the engine parts together. The cost of manufacturing Raptor V2 is half of V1, making it cost-effective for large-scale production.
Source: Tesmanian.com Journalist Evelyn J. Arevalo @JaneidyEve via Twitter
Earlier this year, Musk shared that SpaceX has achieved increasing the rate of production of their Raptor V2 engine, which is important to rapidly advance the launch vehicles’ development. Production rate for V2 reached 5 per week in February and 7 per week in March. Musk expects SpaceX to manufacture at least one Raptor V2 per day. Building Starship engines fast is crucial, long-term, fast production rate will enable SpaceX to conduct frequent spaceflights to make life multiplanetary.
The fleet of Raptor V2 engines in the photograph Musk shared will be installed in the test vehicles that will perform a debut orbital flight this year. The stainless steel prototypes are identified as Starship SN24 and Super Heavy Booster 7. In early April Musk said Starbase engineers would begin installing 33 Raptor V2 engines to the rocket booster to begin pre-flight tests. Starship SN24 will be equipped with 6 engines, three are vacuum-optimized Raptors (R-Vac) for propulsion in space. The difference between a standard Raptor and R-Vac is that the latter features a much larger nozzle.
Raptor 2 rocket engines at Starbase, each producing over half a million pounds (230 tons) of force pic.twitter.com/9ixxXXceG3— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 26, 2022
It is unclear when SpaceX will perform the debut orbital Starship flight test that will demonstrate the Raptor V2 engines power for the first time. It will also be the first time engineers test 33 engines at once as Super Heavy propels Starship to Low Earth Orbit, the most engines they have tested in-flight is 6. The company is pending regulatory approval from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA has been conducting an environmental review of the Starbase launch facility for roughly 10 months. The Administration expects to complete its review on April 29, however, it has delayed it three times before so we will find out this week if SpaceX can finally apply for a flight license soon. Fingers-crossed, we all want to see that beast fly already!UPDATE: U.S. Federal Aviation Administration delays SpaceX Starbase Texas environmental review completion a fourth time until May 31st
Featured Image Source: Elon Musk via Twitter