SpaceX shares images of Mars-bound Starship’s colossal Raptor engine setup
We're at the dawn of a new era in spaceflight.
SpaceX shared new photos on Twitter showing it has nearly finished installing the 39 upgraded Raptor engines it requires to take its fully reusable Starship rocket to orbit for the first time.
The engines are being fitted onto a new Starship prototype called Ship 24 and a Super Heavy booster named Booster 7. If upcoming tests are successful, they will launch simultaneously into orbit sometime this summer.
SpaceX is eyeing a summer Starship orbital test flight
SpaceX's Super Heavy Booster 7, fitted with 33 new Raptor 2 engines, made its way to the launch pad for the third time on June 23rd for testing.
Booster 7 has completed four cryogenic proofs and a Raptor thrust simulation test, and SpaceX may put it through a wet dress rehearsal similar to the one recently carried out by NASA on its moon-bound Space Launch System (SLS).
33 Raptor engines installed on the Booster, 6 on the Ship pic.twitter.com/l7K6rH96qa— SpaceX (@SpaceX) July 2, 2022
Now, on July 2, SpaceX shared images of Booster 7's almost-finished assembly and Starship S24 with six Raptor engines.
Ship 24 also seems to have a new metal framework covering the ship's aft, which was likely added to allow for extra thermal protection for ground tests and possibly also the upcoming orbital launch. The fully reusable launch vehicle prototype has also completed cryogenic proofs and thrust simulation tests.
According to Teslarati, SpaceX has requested road closures on July 5-7 and on July 11-12, each of which would provide a 12-hour test window on any of these days.
SpaceX's Mars-bound Starship is almost ready to fly
Last month, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced that the company's colossal Mars-bound rocket should be "ready to fly" in July, after the company won Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval following the release of a much-delayed environmental review.
After the FAA approval announcement, Musk wrote, "for the first time ever, there is a rocket capable of establishing permanent bases on the moon and Mars". The finalized Starship rocket is expected to revolutionize spaceflight by driving down the cost of successive launches due to the fact that it's fully reusable — SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket reuses its first stage boosters, while second stages burn up on reentry.
In March, Musk said the "first Starship orbital flight will be with Raptor 2 engines, as they are much more capable [and] reliable. 230 ton or ~500k lb thrust at sea level. We'll have 39 flightworthy engines built by next month, then another month to integrate, so hopefully May for orbital flight test."
Musk recently said Raptor V2 costs roughly half as much to manufacture as the previous model, V1.5. He also said it is "much more reliable" and powerful. SpaceX was able to boost Raptor's maximum thrust by 25 percent, to 230 tons of thrust at sea level. By comparison, the V1.5 engines used on Starships SN8-11 and SN15 produced around 185 tons (~410,000 lbf).
Though that May launch didn't take place, SpaceX finally has FAA approval under its belt, meaning we may be very close to seeing Starship reach orbit for the first time. If Musk is to be believed — and that is arguably a big if — it will be the first launch of a rocket that could eventually take up to a million people to the Red Planet.