2019 has been shaping as much as be an attention-grabbing yr for SpaceX and its founder, Elon Musk. After finishing work on the miniaturized model of the Starship (Starship Alpha or “Starship hopper”) over the vacations, SpaceX moved forward with the test-firing of its new Raptor engine in late January/early February. In accordance with Musk’s imaginative and prescient, these engines will give the Starship the required thrust to succeed in the Moon and Mars.
The test-firing came about at SpaceX’s Rocket Improvement and Check Facility, situated simply outdoors of McGregor, Texas. As Musk just lately tweeted, the checks went very nicely, attaining the thrust obligatory for each the Starship and its first-stage booster, the Tremendous-Heavy. Musk additionally claimed that the engine broke the earlier file for combustion chamber strain, which was established by the Russian RD-180.
The RD-180 was the product of the Soviet-era Energia rocket program, which sought to create a super-heavy launch car that might take the reusable Buran spacecraft (Russia’s model of the Area Shuttle) into orbit. Whereas this system was discontinued, the engine survived and was even imported to the US, the place it turned a part of Lockheed Martin’s Atlas III rocket and United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V.
For many years, the RD-180 and its predecessor (the RD-170) held the file for combustion chamber strain, rating in at 26.7 MPa (3,870 psi) and 24.52 MPa (3,556 psi), respectively. Nonetheless, three days after Musk initially tweeted concerning the Raptor’s efficiency outcomes, he declared that the chamber strain had “reached 268.9 bar” – which works out to 26.89 MPa (3,900 psi), thus establishing a brand new file by a couple of 1 % margin.
Musk was requested if this efficiency had something to do with SpaceX’s determination to make use of a mixture of cryogenically-supercooled liquid methane and liquid oxygen (LOX) to energy the engines, which is able to reportedly have the ability to give them a 10-20 % enhance over typical engines. To this, Musk replied within the destructive, stating that the methane and LOX gasoline had been barely saved under liquid temperature for the test-firing.
When saved at cryogenic temperature, Musk anticipates that the engine will have the ability to obtain its goal chamber strain of 300 bar (4350 psi), however went on to state that “solely 250 bar is required for nominal operation of Starship/Tremendous Heavy.” If this proves to be true, the Raptor can have exceeded the earlier efficiency file by a margin of 11 %.
Granted, these outcomes are all preliminary and the Raptor has but to carry out as a part of an built-in system. And with virtually 20 years of expertise beneath its belt, reaching chamber pressures of as much as ~257.5 bar (3735 psi) commonly aboard the Atlas V rocket, the RD-180 nonetheless has the sting. Nonetheless, with take a look at flights of the Starship Alpha anticipated to start subsequent yr, we cannot have to attend lengthy to see if the Raptor can really outperform the RD-180.
If all goes nicely, SpaceX hopes to being development on a full-scale prototype of the Starship in late 2019 or early 2020. Primarily based on the tentative dates Musk has offered previously, it’s hoped that the Starship might be able to conduct its first cargo flights as early as 2022, its first lunar passenger flight by 2023, and its first crewed flight to Mars by 2024 (which is to be adopted by the development of Mars Base Alpha by 2028).
Elon Musk exhibits off prototype of Mars-bound rocket, Starship