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SpaceX is closer to launching the next Starship prototype at the South Texas launch facility where the company is building its first spaceport in Boca Chica Beach. Early Tuesday morning, at around 3:13 a.m. CDT, the Starship SN8 test vehicle roared to life when teams ignited a trio of Raptor engines. It is the first time SpaceX ignites three Raptor engines simultaneously. Each Raptor is capable of producing over 200 tons of thrust.
The ignition occurred during a static-fire test, which is a routine pre-flight preparation that ensures all sea-level engines are ready to take flight. Engineers filled the stainless-steel Starship SN8 vehicle with propellant -- cryogenic methane and liquid oxygen, and the Raptors were briefly ignited for a few seconds as the vehicle remained grounded to a test stand at the launch pad. The successful static-firing followed a series of preburner test days prior. Boca Chica village residents captured footage of the powerful Raptors ignition, video below.
Now, SpaceX teams are expected to stack a nose cone featuring fins to the Starship SN8 prototype ahead of its debut launch. In the coming days, we could see another static-fire test take place with the fully-assembled vehicle. Starship SN8 will be the first prototype that conducts a test flight featuring aerodynamic fins and a trio of Raptors. The founder of SpaceX Chief Engineer Elon Musk said Starship SN8 will fly approximately 50,000 feet (15-kilometers) off the ground and attempt a "belly flop" dive mid-flght, before landing vertically on a nearby landing pad. Previous prototypes only soared 150-meters above Boca Chica Beach, it will be the first time SpaceX attempts a higher altitude test launch.
Each test takes the company closer to launching a Starship to space next year. The final version of Starship will feature six Raptor engines, three sea-level engines for atmospheric flight and three larger vacuum-optimized Raptors for propulsion in space. Starship will require a gigantic Super Heavy rocket booster powered by 28 Raptor engines to get out of Earth's atmosphere and enable it to embark onstia long-duration voyage to Mars. The first prototype of the Super Heavy rocket is still under development. Musk aims to launch a Starship/Super Heavy vehicle to orbit sometime next year.
The company is working on a tight schedule to develop a space-ready Starship launch system. A Japanese entrepreneur, Yusaku Maezawa, booked a space tour around the moon aboard Starship scheduled for the year 2023. NASA awarded SpaceX a contract to build a lunar-optimized variant of Starship to launch astronauts and cargo to the moon by 2024. Musk said this week a prototype of the Starship Lunar Lander for NASA should be ready in "two or three years". He expects to conduct frequent orbital Starship test flights and satellite deployments by 2022, before launching humans aboard.
WATCH RAPTOR ENGINES ROAR!