Featured Image Source: Elon Musk
SpaceX is getting closer to launching its next Starship test vehicle at the Boca Chica Beach spacecraft development facility in South Texas. Engineers are working on a prototype referred to as 'SN8.' The founder of SpaceX Elon Musk aspires to develop a stainless-steel Starship capable of carrying one hundred passengers and tons of cargo on long-duration voyages to the moon and Mars. Multiple Starship prototypes are under assembly, each will undergo testing that will offer SpaceX teams insight towards the development of the spacecraft.
Today, Musk shared teams installed a trio of Raptor engines on the Starship SN8 vehicle. It will be the first fully-assembled prototype that features three engines and aerodynamic fins to test out. Raptor engines are fueled by cryogenic methane and liquid oxygen. These engines are unique in the aerospace industry. SpaceX engineers developed the Raptor with Mars in mind. In order to fuel a Starship's return to Earth, future Martians will be capable of creating fuel by extracting carbon dioxide from the Red Planet's thin atmosphere and using subsurface soil ice-water to synthesize methane and liquid oxygen via electrolysis and the Sabatier process.
Image Source: LabPadre via YouTube
Musk shared a photograph on Twitter of Starship SN8's sea-level Raptor engines (pictured below) --"Will be less roomy with 3 vacuum rocket engines added," he said, "9 meter or roughly 30 ft diameter." Starship will be powered by 6 Raptors, including 3 sea level Raptors designed for atmospheric flight, and 3 vacuum optimized Raptors for propulsion in space. Vaccum rocket engines have a much larger nozzle that will fill-up the rest of the empty space under vehicle. Each Raptor engine is capable of producing over 200 tons of thrust at full throttle.
9 meter or roughly 30 ft diameter— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 14, 2020
Starship SN8 will be the first vehicle to attempt a high-altitude test flight of approximately 50,000 feet, equivalent to 15-kilometers. Previous test vehicles conducted low-altitude test flights of 150-meters. Before Starship SN8 could take flight, engineers will test the trio of Raptor engines during a static-fire test that could take place as soon as tonight. According to Boca Chica village residents, SpaceX sent them a notice letter which states: "SpaceX will conduct Space Flight Activites on October 14, 2020, from 9:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. approximately 10 minutes prior to the activity, you will be provided notice by the sounding of a police siren in Boca Chica Village. [...] There is a risk that a malfunction of a SpaceX vehicle during these activites will create an overpressure event that can break windows," the company wrote, asking residents to temporarily leave the area, or go outside their home during Starship testing (full letter shown below).
During the static-fire test, Starship SN8's Raptor engines will be briefly ignited for less than ten seconds as the stainless-steel craft is grounded to a testing stand. Raptors are very powerful, it will be the first time the company ignites three engines at Boca Chica. It is how engineers will gather data to ensure each engine is working optimally before launching the vehicle. If the static-firing goes well, SpaceX will be ready to perform a test flight this month. You can watch Live footage 24/7 of SpaceX operations in the video below.