SpaceX tests their Raptor rocket
Photo By: Elon Musk (From Twitter)
George Kharchilava, Contributing Writer
2019 is shaping up to be an exciting year for space exploration. On Sunday night, Elon Musk posted a video on Twitter that broadcasted the testing of his new next-generation Raptor engines. These engines will be used on the new upcoming Starship that SpaceX is developing to send people to Mars.
In January, Musk teased the prototype version of the Starship, called the “Starship Hopper”. This prototype would be used to test the capabilities of the engines before being used on the finalized version of Starship. Musk said that the Starship Hopper will begin doing test jumps within the next month or so, however due to a storm that damaged the ship no one can be too certain. Once the test jumps are complete and the finalized rocket is built, SpaceX will launch their first private passenger, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, around the Moon later next year. Starship has gone through many designs and name changes throughout the years. Initially called the Mars Colonial Transporter, it has been named the Interplanetary Transport system, the Big Falcon Rocket, and finally, Starship and Super Heavy. The new rocket will consist of two major parts; the Super heavy first-stage booster and the Starship. The booster will be powered by 31 of the newly tests Raptor engines, while Starship will be powered by nine. The first version of the engine will produce roughly 440,000 pounds of thrust each. The entirety of the system will be fully reusable, which means that not only will it be the most powerful rocket ever built, but also the cheapest in comparison to other heavy lift rockets such as the Saturn V (the vehicle that ferried the Apollo astronauts to the moon).
Musk stresses the importance of full reusability, stating, “If one can figure out how to effectively reuse rockets just like airplanes, the cost of access to space will be reduced by as much as a factor of a hundred. A fully reusable vehicle has never been done before. That really is the fundamental breakthrough needed to revolutionize access to space.” This is evident as current prices of launching cargo using the current Falcon 9 rockets have been significantly cheaper than other competing vehicles. Starship will have many applications beyond the scope of sending humans to Mars. Musk wants to replace all of his current line of rockets with Starship, using it for cargo missions, sending satellites into orbit, sending people into orbit, and even cleaning up space debris.
Interestingly, Musk wants to use the rocket for sending people around Earth itself, replacing current airliners. SpaceX claims that this will reduce to the flight time for anywhere on Earth to under an hour. The full reusability of the rocket will allow for tickets to become cheap enough to compete with aerospace companies such as Boeing. Only time will tell when these goals will come to fruition. Even Elon Musk himself said his goals were very ambitious, warning people about the potential delays there may be. Nonetheless, the testing of these engines proves that SpaceX and its CEO are taking these plans seriously.