Despite a large prairie fire linked to the lack of protection against the explosion, this great success brings the Starship closer to its highly anticipated maiden flight.
A little less than a year ago, SpaceX went through a particularly difficult period because of the setbacks of the Raptor V2, its latest generation rocket engine. The latter gave many headaches to engineers, to the point of putting the company back to the wall (see our article). But these galleys galleys seem well and truly over; Tonight, SpaceX conducted the first simultaneous firing test of all six Raptor V2 engines on its 24th Starship prototype.
This is not the first time that the machine has been subjected to this test called “static fire”, which consists of docking the machine on the ground to test its engines at full speed. But the last time SpacX performed such a test, the Starship was still equipped with the first version of the Raptor; this is the first time that six copies of the Raptor V2 have been pushed to the limit simultaneously on the same machine.
And the least we can say is that they work wonderfully. Together they produced a cumulative thrust of approximately 1380 tons – an absolute record on the Starbase, the SpaceX launch base in Boca Chica. For comparison, it is almost double the thrust developed by the first stage of the Falcon 9 launch vehiclethe current flagship of SpaceX!
The test also lasted 8 seconds, making it one of the longest static fires ever performed by a Starship.
A large prairie fire around
The test images are in any case as impressive as one would expect. The firing produced a deafening din and a huge cloud of flames and smoke. And if the scene was so photogenic, it’s because, as usual, SpaceX didn’t not considered necessary to use a firing point fitted with flues – these trenches which are used to channel the incandescent gas jets from the engines.
The firm has no also not used delugethese huge jets of water that usually line the launch pad to reduce the noise of the launch and avoid the structural damage associated with these extreme acoustic waves.
Bad news for the concrete of the poor launch pad. The latter finds himself regularly shattered by the tests of SpaceX because of the forces and the dantesque temperatures that they produce. And this also has direct consequences on the surrounding meadows.
Update: Fire crews are currently starting controlled burns in front of the main fire front in an attempt to starve it of fuel.
Live firefighting onhttps://t.co/NGE5a1EXSc
—Zack Golden (@CSI_Starbase)
For the reasons cited above, Starship launches regularly cause small fires which are quickly brought under control. But this time, the six Raptors V2 unleashed a large prairie fire at the Starbase site. Some witnesses managed to capture some images.
The FAA keeps watch
Difficult to realize the extent of the phenomenon on these videos; but according to Teslarati, observers at the scene described it as a fire “major”. Obviously, it had nothing to do with the huge fires that have hit the drylands of the United States or Australia in recent years. But it would have spread at an unusual speed to a SpaceX landfill that would have burned for several hours.
However, it turns out that the meadows in question are ecological niches protected by local legislation. This is part of the reason why SpaceX took so long to get approval from the FAA, the federal agency that conducted its environmental audit of Starbase.
The agency will likely consider this when granting the final launch license to SpaceX, since such fires are anything but desirable in a protected area; in hindsight, it seems rather surprising that it had not already required the installation of a deluge or flue system. But in practice, there is almost no chance that the FAA will ground the Starship for this reason.
The great premiere of the Starship is not far away
Anyway, the incident was eventually brought under control. The engineers were therefore able to rejoice as they should be in this great success; it brings the Starship one step closer to its first trip to orbit.
This will be an absolutely decisive step that will take SpaceX up a gear. Elon Musk has been teasing the arrival of this latest generation spaceship for years. In particular, it will spearhead the last stage of the Artemis program. In the longer term, he will also play a crucial role in the conquest of Mars, which the billionaire has dreamed of for so long.
We will therefore have to watch for announcements from SpaceX in the coming weeks. The baptism of orbit is now fast approaching, and it promises to open a new chapter in the history of aerospace. And in the meantime, we can already begin to imagine what a similar test will look like with the Super Heavy launcher which will propel the Starship using its… 33 Raptors V2. The poor launch pad definitely has something to worry about!