SpaceX: Watch Elon Musk Fire the Starship Raptor Engine for the First Time
SpaceX has fired its Raptor engine for the first time, a monumental milestone in CEO Elon Musk’s plan to transform humanity into a planet-hopping species. Musk revealed the breakthrough via Twitter on Sunday night, confirming the firing of the engine designed for the company’s next major rocket, the Mars-bound Starship.
The engine is powered by liquid oxygen and methane, ditching the rocket propellant required by the Falcon 9’s Merlin engines, enabling humans to harvest Raptor fuel away from Earth. The short clip, filmed at the company’s Boca Chica test facility in Texas, shows an impressive blaze of fire over the short space of a few seconds. Musk suggested that the noticeable green tinge in the flames could either result from the camera’s saturation levels, or a bit of copper from the chamber. The engine uses methalox torch igniters, kickstarted by gaseous methane and oxygen combined with big spark plugs. In Musk’s words, “a 💨 of insane power.”
The firing comes just days after the team tested another key component of the ambitious Starship. The team tested the metallic regenerative heat shield, designed to stop the rocket from disintegrating when it enters the Martian atmosphere by blasting it with temperatures up to 1,100 degrees Celsius (or 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit). It’s a marked improvement over aluminum that starts to melt at 1,221 degrees Fahrenheit, and Musk is hopeful that a concept known as transpiration cooling will help keep temperatures down.
SpaceX plans to use 31 of these engines for the Starship’s booster, creating a liftoff thrust originally rated at 5,400 tons, with a further seven serving the ship. The Raptor engine will initially arrive in one 200 metric ton thrust version for both use cases, but future editions will use a vacuum-optimized version with specific impulse over 380 seconds, plus a sea-level version with a beefier 250 tons of thrust.
The company is expected to fly a miniature version of the Starship, dubbed the “hopper,” in the coming weeks at the same facility.
From there, the company could achieve its goals of an orbital prototype by 2020 and an unmanned mission to Mars as early as 2022.