Boom! SpaceX puts its upcoming Starship engine through its paces in a video shared Friday showing the Raptor engine undergoing a full-duration test fire at the company’s rocket development facilities.
The 15-second clip shared on Twitter shows a new vacuum variant of the Raptor engine during a test in McGregor, Texas. This variant of the Raptor engine will help the spaceship travel through the vacuum of space, unlike the smaller variants of sea level demonstrated so far.
The new variant is a beast: a previous photo from SpaceX showed the new version towering over the previous version with a relatively small human scale.
This is an exciting step forward in what is possibly SpaceX̵
The ship is also intended for large missions. It is completely reusable and runs on liquid oxygen and methane. Astronauts could use the ship to fly to Mars, refuel with the planet’s resources, and either return home or venture further out and build a planet-hopping network in the process. CEO Elon Musk has outlined plans to send the first humans to Mars by the mid-2020s and build a full-grown city as early as 2050.
In short, this video might take a look at the engine that brought the first humans to Mars.
The clip shows the impressive “Mach diamonds” that form after the engine. This phenomenon occurs when the pressure from the gases exiting the engine and the surrounding atmosphere do not match. The high pressure gas expands into the low pressure atmosphere, but is then pushed back due to shock waves. Popular mechanics explained in 2017 that these diamonds can form behind fighter jets and that they can also be made using a home experiment.
How powerful is this new engine? A measurement would be a specific impulse. This measures how much movement you get from each unit of fuel used. NASA’s Glenn Research Center explains how teams get that number. What is important, however, is that it can be measured in seconds.
A 2013 version of the SpaceX website stated that the Merlin engine used for the current Falcon 9 launches had a specific pulse of 282 seconds for sea level and a specific pulse of 311 seconds for vacuum. In September 2019, Musk wrote on Twitter that the Raptor engine is around 350 seconds long at sea level and can reach 380 seconds for the vacuum-optimized variant.
The spacecraft is expected to have six engines, while the Super Heavy variant, which will help the ship leave Earth, is expected to use 28 engines. In short, the emerging ship will have a considerable amount of power to accomplish its goals.
The Inverse analysis – SpaceX appears to be pushing its plans for more ambitious testing. Prototype models of the ship have so far completed hop tests that reach 150 meters or 500 feet in the air. Only a single Raptor engine was used in these tests: for more difficult tests, such as starting at 20 kilometers, SpaceX is expected to add more engines to help meet the challenge.
SpaceX intends to conduct an orbital test flight sometime next year. The company then aims to travel to the moon, Mars, and beyond with the final ship. This video could be a demonstration of the engine that powers these ships in action.