Starship engine tested for vacuum: Orbital flight is approaching – if the authorities cooperate

In line with the rocketing increase in Tesla shares after good Q3 numbers and a billion-dollar deal with Hertz, SpaceX’s space plans are also making headway: On Friday, Elon Musk’s space company fired the vacuum for the first time on the Texan test site in Boca Chica -Version of a Raptor engine, built into the latest Starship upper stage SN20. It was ignited twice for two to three seconds each time, once alone, once together with a non-vacuum engine. The special feature of the vacuum version is the longer nozzle, which, thanks to its larger diameter, can accelerate the emerging gases even more strongly in the vacuum. In rocket technology, one speaks of a suitable “relaxation ratio”.

Test brings Starship orbital flight closer

So far, the Starship upper stage has only been used in test flights in the lower atmospheric layers. Due to the comparatively high external air pressure, there is no point in having a nozzle that is too long there, as the accelerated gases have to flow against the external pressure. In the future, however, the Starship upper level will start on the lower level, the Super Heavy Booster. It takes the upper stage with 33 normal Raptor engines to a height of a few dozen kilometers, then separates to land. The upper stage then ignites its three vacuum-optimized Raptor engines to reach Earth orbit. When returning to Earth, the upper level uses three raptor engines for braking and landing in the deeper, denser layers of the atmosphere.

The successful engine test feeds the hope that the entire Starship will soon be able to embark on its first orbital flight. As early as August, SpaceX had put the upper and lower stages together on a trial basis to form the world’s largest rocket with a height of 120 meters. Then the FAA reported that they had presented an environmental review paper to the public. The first hearings have already taken place. Musk’s call for support apparently had an impact – many people came from outside Texas to advocate a quick completion of the environmental assessment and an early take-off permit.

But local residents in particular also expressed clear concerns about as summarizes the Spaceflightnow website. It was about environmental and nature protection as well as the resettlement of people and the conversion into Elon Musk’s planned “Starbase City” with the consequence of higher property prices. The nearby town of Brownsville was popular because of the economic development opportunities that SpaceX is creating.

Musk is hoping for FAA approval to launch

The FAA will continue to receive comments through November 1st. Then the authority wants to decide whether to complete the environmental assessment and issue a start permit, possibly subject to conditions. However, it could also begin a new, more extensive environmental review – in which case further major delays in Starship development would be expected. In any case, SpaceX wants to carry out further engine tests in the coming weeks, up to the final test of all 33 engines of the lower stage. Should it all go smoothly, Elon Musk announced the orbital flight a few days ago on Twitter for November. But the SpaceX boss remained realistic and also wrote: “Depending on the approval of the authorities.”

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Starship engine tested for vacuum: Orbital flight is approaching – if the authorities cooperate