SpaceX completes first test of a new Raptor engine for its Mars-ready BFR rocket

The test, short though it was, reveals a lot to the engineers working on its development.

SpaceX has just completed the first test of its brand-new Raptor rocket engine. This engine will power the Super Heavy rocket as well as the Starship, the spacecraft that could take humans to Mars.

The Raptor series of engines is fuelled by liquid methane and liquid oxygen using a staged combustion cycle. In other words, the fuel/propellant is burned in multiple stages rather than all at once, which results in a more complex, but also more fuel-efficient design. The current Raptor engine produces twice the thrust of the Merlin 1D engine that powers SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.

While various iterations of the Raptor engines have been tested in the past two years, the current test involves a new generation of engine specifically designed for the BFR (Big Falcon Rocket). The BFR involves a ‘Super Heavy’ stage and a ‘Starship’ stage. The Super Heavy bit is a booster that is, in theory, capable of putting over 100 tonnes into low Earth orbit (LEO). To put that number in perspective, the retired Space Shuttles could handle an LEO payload of about 122 tonnes. India’s GSLV MkIII can manage 8 tonnes.

 

The Starship stage is designed to operate with a human crew and could potentially be used to take humans to Mars. It could also be used for tasks such as ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).

In total, a BFR will use 31 Raptor rockets for the Super Heavy stage and seven for the Starship stage.

The current Raptor engine tested lasted only a few seconds, but the fact that the engine didn’t blow up when fired up is in itself an achievement. The test, short though it was, reveals a lot to the engineers working on its development. For example, a green tinge to the flames, as visible in the footage, could either be a camera artefact or could indicate that the copper lining on the inside of the rocket motor was burning.

 

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