You don't need a spaceflight license to fire giant rockets.
Private aerospace juggernaut SpaceX is midway through a slow-going licensing process with the Federal Aviation Administration, to determine whether the Elon Musk-owned firm will be allowed to launch its Starship into orbit from its facilities at Boca Chica, Texas. But that doesn't mean it can't continue to push forward.
SpaceX debuted a video of its Raptor vacuum engine equipped on a Starship prototype on Thursday, in what became the first integrated test-fire of the space-worthy propulsion system, according to a tweet from the company.
In other words, we haven't seen the last of Musk's budding space empire.
SpaceX's Starship executed two Raptor vacuum tests, back-to-back
Starship is SpaceX's primary deep space prototype vessel, designed to one day take humans to the moon, and eventually Mars. The Raptor vacuum, also called RVac, is essentially a rocket engine designed specifically for maneuvering in space, like a modification of the conventional Raptor engines that will lift the Super Heavy booster, and the Starship stacked above it, beyond Earth's atmosphere. The vacuum engines feature extra-wide nozzles, and can perform more efficiently in the drastically challenging environment of space, which is very different than the atmospheric Raptor engines. When it's ready, Starship is slated for three RVacs, in addition to three additional conventional Raptor engines, for missions that will take it to the deepest reaches of the solar system.
The first static fire of the RVac engines happened at the tail-end of a seven-hour test window, according to a Teslarati report. This is when Starship S20 fired its engines, but only for what's called a "preburner test," which is where only the first half of a static fire test takes place, cutting off before full ignition kicks in. But on Oct. 21, at roughly 8:16 PM EDT, the first full static test fired up. A little more than an hour later, the Raptor vacuum performed a second test fire, but this time it fired both the RVac and the Raptor Center (conventional rocket) engines. This represented two firsts: the first time both types of rockets were fired at once, and the first time two static test fires were done in so short a time.
First firing of a Raptor vacuum engine integrated onto a Starship pic.twitter.com/uCNAt8Kwzo— SpaceX (@SpaceX) October 22, 2021
The FAA's assessment should end on Nov. 1
Suffice to say that things are moving forward for SpaceX, but it still has far to go before it can loft a Starship prototype into orbit. Musk's aerospace firm executed several successful test flights, and a few that ended in incredible explosions, the former of which flew up to roughly 6 miles (10 km). While SpaceX is rapidly preparing for its next Starship prototype flight, the FAA is allowing members of the public to speak on a draft of its Environmental Assessment.
This is a necessary step according to the National Environmental Policy Act, and if everything goes well, the agency will authorize SpaceX's launch license. Then there's nothing between the Starship and spaceflight but the atmosphere. The FAA's assessment period should finish on Nov. 1, which means we should see the agency's published decision early next month. But if it requests a complete Environmental Impact Statement, SpaceX may have to make do with more test firings, instead of actual launches of the Starship prototype.