SpaceX, run by tech billionaire Elon Musk, has conducted the SN20 Starship prototype’s first static fire test as part of its preparation for the spacecraft’s launch.
The private space corporation fired up its SN20 Starship prototype in earnest for the first time on Thursday night, notching a big milestone on the vehicle’s planned path to orbit, Space.com reported.
The 165-foot-tall SN20, which is currently outfitted with two Raptor engines, performed a brief “static fire” test at 8.16 p.m. EDT at SpaceX’s Starbase facility, near the South Texas town of Boca Chica.
The test seemed to involve just one of the two Raptors, as pointed out by commentators with NASASpaceflight.com, which livestreamed the event. One of SN20’s engines is a standard “sea-level” Raptor, whereas the other is a “vacuum” version, which is optimised to operate in space.
About half an hour after the test, SpaceX confirmed via Twitter that the vacuum Raptor had fired up. It was the first such trial of a vacuum Raptor integrated on a Starship vehicle, according to the company.
Then, at 9.18 p.m. EDT on Thursday, SN20 conducted a second static fire. This one looked a bit brighter and more powerful than the first and may have involved both Raptors, as a NASASpaceflight.com commentator noted.
SpaceX is developing Starship to take people and cargo to the moon, Mars and other distant destinations. NASA has already signed on, picking Starship as the first crewed lunar landing system for its Artemis moon programme.
Starship consists of two elements — a spacecraft called Starship and a giant first-stage booster known as Super Heavy. Both will be fully reusable, and both will be powered by Raptors — six for the final Starship and 29 for Super Heavy.
SN20 will eventually sport six Raptors — three standard and three vacuum, the report said.
SpaceX is prepping the vehicle for an orbital flight test in the coming months, a first for the Starship programme. Starship prototypes have launched before, but those were three-engine (at most) vehicles that reached a maximum altitude of about 6 miles (10 kilometers).