On Tuesday October 20 at 4:21 am EDT, a successful static fire test was performed on the Starship SN8 prototype in Boca Chica, Texas. The launch vehicle has now taken a giant step towards its upcoming high-altitude flight test.
For the first time ever, three Raptor engines were used to ignite the Starship prototype. All three engines produced a thrust approximately equivalent to 90% of the nine Merlin engines that power Falcon 9 boosters. Previous iterations of the Starship only had one Raptor engine installed.
What is a Static Fire Test?
A static fire test is when rocket engines are ignited at full thrust, while the launch vehicle itself remains tethered to the ground.
Static fires are designed to test the capabilities of the Raptor engines, alongside the entire countdown process. It involves fueling the rocket’s first and second stage and the ability of the payload to run off on internal power.
The data collected after the test is used to form a unique set of criteria that are rocket and engine-specific, and take the appropriate course of action.
Following the Static Fire Test, What Happens Next?
CEO Elon Musk confirmed that the data gathered “looks good”, and SpaceX will proceed with the nose cone installation.
Two previous iterations of the Starship, the SN5 and SN6, were not equipped with neither orientation-controlling body flaps nor a nose cone. Both prototypes looked like grain silos, as the SN8 does for the moment.
The SN8 is now slated for a second static fire test in the upcoming days. If everything goes according to plan, SpaceX will proceed with the next big step: an 18-kilometer hop test.
The final fully-operational version of the Starship will be 165-feet-tall (50 meters), and will be powered by six Raptor Engines. Three sea-level versions like the ones that were used for the recent static fire. The other three labeled as vacuum variants, will sport larger nozzles, and will also be optimized for in-orbit use.
The final Starship vehicle will launch atop a rocket called the Super Heavy equipped with a total of 30 Raptor engines.
SpaceX is gradually moving towards implementing a final iteration of the Starship launch vehicle. During the 2020 Mars Society Convention, Musk spoke about a possible timeline to launch a mission to the Red Planet.
The SpaceX CEO stated that an uncrewed mission to Mars could take place as early as 2024. “We could probably send an uncrewed mission there in maybe four years”, Musk said. The entrepreneur added that SpaceX has “a fighting chance” within that timeline.
The first step towards occupying Mars is apparently not so far away!