SpaceX, Elon Musk’s spaceflight juggernaut, is in the middle of a lengthy licensing process with the Federal Aviation Administration over whether it will be able to launch its mammoth Starship to orbit from the coast of Boca Chica, Texas. In the meantime, it’s carrying on its merry way, testing out a variant of its super-powered Raptor engine.
On Thursday, SpaceX shared a video of its Raptor vacuum engine — integrated onto a Starship prototype — firing for the first time in the dusk light at Starbase on the Texas coast. While it’s technically the second time the vacuum has been tested, it’s the first time SpaceX has done so while the engine is attached to the rocket.
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Starship is intended to carry humans to the moon and, eventually, Mars. The Raptor vacuum (or “RVac”) engine is basically a “space” version of the Raptor engines that will lift off from Earth underneath the Super Heavy booster.
The vacuum engines have a much larger nozzle and are designed to operate more efficiently in the vacuum of space than the “sea-level” version of Raptor. Starship is expected to be outfitted with three RVacs and three standard Raptor engines for flights across the solar system.
You can see the test firing below.
A second static test fire was reported by Space.com later in the evening.
There’s still a long way to go before SpaceX gets Starship to orbit. After a bunch of successful test flights (including some that ended explosively) reached a height of around 6 miles (10 kilometers), SpaceX has been preparing for the next prototype flight. But the FAA is currently seeking public comments on a draft of the FAA’s Environmental Assessment, which is required under the National Environmental Policy Act, before the agency can grant SpaceX a launch license for the first orbital flight of Starship.
That period is expected to end on Nov. 1 and then the FAA will publish a final assessment. If the Administration asks for a full Environmental Impact Statement, we might be seeing a lot more test firings on the ground.