In the early morning (October 20th), SpaceX The three Raptor engines of the Starship prototype SN8 (“Serial No. 8”) were illuminated in a short “static fire” test at the company’s location in South Texas near the beach village of Boca Chica.Neither SpaceX nor the company founder and CEO Elon Musk I had publicly commented on the process at the time this story was published, but it appeared to be going well. (SpaceX observers are constantly monitoring the Boca Chica site so a third-party video of the static fire is available.)
Connected: Spaceship and Super Heavy: SpaceX’s Mars colonizing vehicles in pictures
Static fires, in which engines ignite while a launcher remains tied to the ground, is a common precursor to flight. And SN8 is about to start – a no-screw test flight this month or next that will reach a maximum altitude of 18 kilometers if everything goes according to plan.
This will be by far the highest a Starship prototype has ever flown. Three previous single engine iterations have reached around 150 meters, most recently in August and September of this year when vehicles SN5 and SN6 took to the skies.
SN5 and SN6 looked like grain silos, just as SN8 does now. But the newest vehicle will look a lot more spaceship-like when launched, with a nose cone and orientation-controlling body flaps, Musk said.
These features will likely be installed soon. But SN8 can start another static fire beforehand. In one
said the SN8 plan included “static fire, box office, static fire, flight to 60,000 feet and back.”
SN8 Starship with flaps & nosecone should be done in about a week. Then static fire, checkouts, static fire, fly to 60,000 ft & back.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 12, 2020
The many prototypes inform everyone of the final design of Starship, which Musk says will be powered by six Raptors – three “sea level” versions like the one fired this morning and three “vacuum” versions with much larger nozzles that are optimized for use in space. The 50 m high spaceship will launch from Earth on a giant rocket called the Super Heavy, which will carry around 30 of its own raptors.
Both vehicles are fully and quickly reusable. SpaceX eventually plans to use Starship and Super Heavy for all space travel needs, from launching satellites to transporting people and payloads to the moon, Mars, and other distant destinations.
For example, Starship is in the running to provide manned lunar landing services for NASAs Artemis program, with which two astronauts will land at the south pole of the moon in 2024.
The Raptor engine also lends itself well to Mars colonization, one of Musk and SpaceX’s top long-term goals. Raptors run on liquid oxygen and methane, both of which can be efficiently produced on the Red Planet with local resources, Musk emphasized. (Merlin engines, which power the SpaceX Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, use liquid oxygen and some form of kerosene.)
Mike Wall is the author of Out There (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for another’s life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.
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