SpaceX is building one next-gen Raptor engine every day ahead of Starship launch

SpaceX and NASA are gearing up towards the first crewed lunar landing since Apollo 17 in 1972.
Chris Young
33 Raptor engines attached to the Super Heavy prototype.
33 Raptor engines attached to the Super Heavy prototype.

SpaceX / Twitter 

NASA deputy associate administrator Mark Kirasich spoke highly of SpaceX's progress on Starship in a subcommittee meeting of NASA's Advisory Council on Monday, October 31, as per an Ars Technica report.

In 2021, NASA awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to build a modified version of Starship as a lunar lander for its upcoming Artemis III mission.

Now, Kirasich has provided an update on SpaceX's fully reusable Starship launch system, stating that the private space firm is building one of its next-generation Raptor engines every day.

SpaceX is "now building seven engines a week"

SpaceX just fired its Falcon Heavy rocket into orbit for the first time in more than three years. That rocket uses 27 Merlin engines and it is the world's most powerful operational rocket. All going to plan though, it will soon be stripped of that title by Starship.

SpaceX will use 33 Raptor engines to power the Super Heavy booster that serves as the Starship launch system's first stage, while another six will power the upper stage. For NASA's moon mission, Starship will have to re-light the first stage's engines to launch astronauts off the moon.

"SpaceX has moved very quickly on development," Kirasich explained during the Advisory Council. "We've seen them manufacture what was called Raptor 1.0. They have since upgraded to Raptor 2.0 that first of all increases performance and thrust and secondly reduces the amount of parts, reducing the amount of time to manufacture and test. They build these things very fast. Their goal was seven engines a week, and they hit that about a quarter ago. So they are now building seven engines a week."

To put that impressive manufacturing speed into perspective, NASA awarded startup Aerojet Rocketdyne a contract worth $1.16 billion in 2015 to restart the production line for the RS-25 engine for its Space Launch System (SLS). The RS-25 produces approximately 510,000 pounds of thrust, which is practically the same as SpaceX's Raptor 2 engine. The goal for Aerojet Rocketdyne, as set out in the terms of NASA's contract, was to produce four RS-25 engines per year.

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Starship could fly in December

Kirasich also stated that SpaceX is continuously improving the quality of its engines as it develops and tests Raptors at impressive speed. The NASA deputy associate administrator also said SpaceX is targeting early December for Starship's orbital maiden flight. Before that orbital test flight can take place, however, SpaceX must carry out a full 33-engine static fire test of Super Heavy.

According to Kirasich, a successful Starship orbital flight would lead to three additional test flights focused on fueling demonstrations. One of those test flights will be a long-duration flight to test Starship's durability in space for the upcoming lunar mission. If everything goes to plan, Starship could perform an uncrewed test flight to the surface of the moon by the end of 2024, which will mean NASA will only be one step away from finally sending humans back to the lunar surface.

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