An important piece of SpaceX news Starship megarocket just got her first workout.
The first vacuum Raptor, the space version of Starship’s Raptor engine, exploded in a debut test at SpaceX’s development facility in McGregor, Texas, company representatives announced via Twitter last night (September 24).
The no-load Raptor survived the test, which occurred about three weeks after the engine left the Los Angeles-area SpaceX rocket factory for McGregor. (SpaceX announced on September 4th that the pioneering engine had been shipped to the Texas proving ground.)
Related: The SpaceX spaceship and the Super Heavy rocket in pictures
You have completed a full life test run of the Raptor Vacuum engine at SpaceX’s Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas pic.twitter.com/0GPSdSifnn25 September 2020
Last night’s tweet described the test as “full duration”. It is not clear exactly how long the burn lasted; The tweet includes a 15-second video, which fades to black with the Raptor vacuum still going strong.
The Raptor vacuum cleaner is similar to the “sea level” version of the motor but is equipped with a much larger nozzle, which improves efficiency in the space environment. The spaceship will have three of each Raptor variant, said SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk.
Those six engines will power the 50-meter-high Starship to distant destinations like the moon and Mars. The vehicle will be powerful enough to launch from the surface of those two rocky bodies, but it will need help to escape the Earth’s gravity well. Then, Starship will leave our planet on top of a giant rocket called Super Heavy, which will be propelled by about 30 Raptors at sea level.
Both Super Heavy and Starship will be fully and quickly reusable, SpaceX said. Musk envisions the duo slashing the costs of spaceflight so dramatically that ambitious ventures like the colonization of Mars become economically feasible.
SpaceX is iterating towards the final version of Starship via a series of prototypes, some of which have already taken off. The single engine SN5 and SN6 vehicles recently made test jumps 500 feet (150 meters) high and the three engines SN8 is preparing for its own 12-mile (20-kilometer) flight in the near future.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.