SpaceX Conducts First Static-Fire Test Of Starship's Vacuum-Optimized Engine Designed For Propulsion In Space

Evelyn Arevalo by Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo October 22, 2021

SpaceX Conducts First Static-Fire Test Of Starship's Vacuum-Optimized Engine Designed For Propulsion In Space

On October 21st at 7:16 p.m. Central Time, SpaceX’s Starship SN20 roared to life during the first static-fire test of its vacuum-optimized Raptor engine, known as 'R-Vac,' that is designed for propulsion in space. The stainless-steel spacecraft prototype is currently equipped with two engines, an R-Vac and a sea-level Raptor designed for atmospheric flight. The vehicle will be equipped with three R-Vac engines and three sea-level engines for the upcoming orbital flight test. R-Vac engines feature a much larger nozzle compared to standard engines, the increased diameter improves efficiency in outer space environment.

During the static-fire test, engineers fueled Starship SN20 with cryogenic Methalox, a combination of liquid methane and oxygen. They briefly ignited R-Vac for the first time as the 160-foot-tall vehicle remained grounded to the launch pad mount. Approximately half-an-hour after the test, SpaceX shared a stunning video of the vacuum Raptor’s ignition. –“First firing of a Raptor vacuum engine integrated onto a Starship ,” the company announced on Thursday evening. SpaceX has only tested sea-level Raptors on previous Starship prototypes. SpaceX founder Elon Musk shared that the R-vac engine chamber pressure is "Currently at ~270 bar, but working on upgrades to get it over 300 bar," he wrote via Twitter.

This test is a crucial milestone towards an orbital flight attempt. According to local residents, SpaceX ignited Starship SN20’s engines twice, at around 8:18 p.m. CDT, they performed a second static ignition test, that may have involved both Raptors, however, not yet confirmed by the company. Earlier this week, on Monday, SpaceX conducted a brief test of the vehicle's preburners, before the static-fire. We will see more tests like these in the coming weeks. 

SpaceX plans to perform the first orbital Starship flight test that will assess the performance of every Starship system and design in order to develop the spacecraft. SpaceX is conducting pre-flight tests of each engine that Starship SN20 will fly with, Super Heavy Booster 4 will also undergo similar testing with its 29 sea-level Raptor engines. Once both vehicles pass all pre-flight milestones, the company will be able to conduct the orbital flight that will take the vehicle to outer space from the Starbase launch pad at Boca Chica village, Texas. SpaceX will attempt to return SN20, it will cross Earth’s rough atmosphere to land in the ocean off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii. 

The exact timeline for an orbital flight is still unknown because the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is conducting an environmental assessment of the Starbase launch site. The regulatory agency is in charge of ensuring safe air traffic and spaceflight operations. The FAA released a draft environmental review for the Starship development program and invited the public to give their opinions on Starship activities in the South Texas region. The Administration is accepting public comments via email until November 1st, visit FAA official website for contact information. After their assessment concludes, SpaceX can obtain a flight license to launch Starship SN20 to orbit.


Featured Image Source: SpaceX

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