SpaceX is rapidly developing several Starship designs at the South Texas facility located at Boca Chica Beach in Brownsville. An orbital-class Starship will be equipped with six powerful Raptor engines. Raptors are fueled by cryogenic methane and liquid oxygen, a special mixture of fuel used in the aerospace industry. Every Raptor is capable of producing over 200 tons of thrust at full throttle or 2MN (meganewtons). Three of Starship’s Raptors will be sea-level engines for atmospheric flight, and three vacuum-optimized Raptors for propulsion in space. Vacuum-optimized engines are more complex and different than engines at sea level; they are specifically designed to provide higher efficiency in space vacuum. A noticeable distinction between these two engines is that in the Raptor vacuum engine, the bell nozzle is larger. SpaceX today posted a photograph depicting the gigantic Raptor vacuum engine, pictured below. “The first Raptor Vacuum engine (RVac) for Starship has shipped from SpaceX’s rocket factory in Hawthorne, California to our development facility in McGregor, Texas,” SpaceX reported.
SpaceX Chief Engineer creator Elon Musk said-” Worth noting that thrust is only slightly higher with the big bell nozzle version. Larger bell is primarily for efficiency in vacuum. Aiming for 380+ sec Isp for RVac long-term. Initially likely to be ~372,” he noted on Twitter. Musk was asked today: “What are the odds of the RVac engine surviving its first test flight,” if he was sure that the latest design with a larger nozzle would have a chance of success, to which he replied – “Above 50% likely to make it.” The vacuum-optimized Raptor is expected to be tested in space next year.
Musk said SpaceX is planning to perform the first Starship orbital test flight in 2021. Meanwhile, the company has started constructing an “orbital launch mount” on the launch pad in South Texas planned for the first Starship to perform a test flight into space.
This year, SpaceX tested a pair of in-flight Raptor engines at sea level on August 4th, engineers launched a Starship stainless steel prototype [SN5], and on September 3rd another [SN6]. The Starship designs featured a single Raptor sea level engine that rose off the base of the metal cylinder 150 meters above the sunny beach of Boca Chica. The launches demonstrated the strength of the Raptor and the ability of SpaceX engineers to establish technologies that would control the thrust of the engine to perform a controlled landing. Check out a Raptor motor in action!
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