How does one lift 100 metric tons of spacefaring gear into low-Earth orbit and onward to Mars? For SpaceX and its ambitious CEO, that means strapping 31 advanced boosters to the bottom of a retro-styled rocket and shooting for the stars. Test-firing of this engine has now reached lift-off levels of power, with the company breaking a long-held rocketry record while it was at it.
SpaceX's vision for Mars hinges on a spacecraft and rocket combination known as the Starship and Super Heavy, respectively. This two-stage vehicle is hoped to one day succeed the company's Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and Dragon as its primary vehicles and carry its exploratory ambitions into deep space.
But there is plenty of testing, validation and likely refinements to take place before then. The Raptor engine that will power the Starship and Super Heavy was fired up last week for the first time, and things appear to be going swimmingly as engineers gradually ramp things up.
"Raptor just achieved power level needed for Starship & Super Heavy," tweeted SpaceX CEO Elon Musk following the milestone test-firing.
Musk went on to explain that the design of the Starship and Super Heavy calls for at least 170 metric tons of force per booster. In this particular test-firing, the Raptor engine hit 172 metric tons along with a chamber pressure of 257 bar using a warm propellant. He anticipates this should reach around 300 bar using deep cryogenic fuel instead.
Overnight, continued test-firing of the Raptor engine saw it reach 268.9 bar, surpassing the chamber pressure record set by the Russian-built RD-180, which today powers the Atlas V rockets for United Launch Alliance.
"It's amazing that the RD-170 & RD-180 engines held the record for so many decades," said Musk. "Excellent engineering."
Having recently finished a prototype for the Starship vehicle at its facility in Texas, SpaceX hopes to conduct the first grasshoppers tests for the program in the coming months. Though that prototype only features three Raptor engines, the final design calls for seven, while the Super Heavy booster will feature a total of 31.
Source: Twitter (Elon Musk)
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