Less than three weeks after being shipped to Texas, SpaceX says Starship’s first Raptor vacuum engine has completed a “full-term test fire” in March for brim test flights.
Known as the Raptor Vacuum or Arvic, the engine is based almost entirely on the sea floor-friendly cousin, all the complex turbomachine and combustion chambers that make up the bulk of a rocket engine. Things begin to move down the throat of the combustion chamber (the narrowest part, like the central bell), where SpaceX has increased the current bell nozzle of the raptor by five or more factors.
SpaceX’s reusable Starship spacecraft will use a combination of three Raptor and three Raptor vacuum engines from the coast that will need to be shock-free and ensure efficient operation in both the environment and space.
In simple terms, a rocket engine can benefit from a vacuum-adjusted nozzle because the added surface area (more or less) allows its combustion chamber to be pushed out against extremely high pressure gases. Rocket nozzles are most effective when the engine’s exhaust gas expires at the right time to match the atmospheric pressure when it exits the bell. Logically, at sea level on Earth, the air pressure is high enough, meaning there is no need to expand to equalize the rocket’s exhaust.
In the vacuum of space, however, the exhaust gases must expand greatly to reach the same pressure around it. For rocket propulsion, this extra expansion can be used to build a more advanced engine, squeeze out the extra energy from the same system and in a perfect vacuum, the most efficient nozzle will be technically infinite. Engineering and physical disabilities do not go hand in hand, unfortunately, so vacuum rocket engineers are forced to settle on the size of a nozzle on a scale that humans can easily manufacture.
In theory, Starship does not is required The Raptor vacuum engine was designed to be a functional biblical spacecraft, and CEO Alan Musk himself designed the design two years ago with seven sea-level engines. Since then, the CEO of SpaceX has revealed that Raptor has been making so much progress that the company has refused to remove vacuum-adapted engines from Starship’s baseline design.
It is unclear what SpaceX really means when it says that the Raptor Vacuum SN1 completed a “full-term test fire.” For Starship, a full-time or rabbit insertion that begins immediately after the separation from the super heavy booster – maybe no less than five or six minutes. Even for SpaceX, moving the first engine (Raptor vacuum) to a successful multi-minute steady fire in less than three weeks would be an almost unimaginable feat of engineering. The feat means that SpaceX is already very comfortable with a few minutes of raptor burning – perhaps the biggest hurdle between Starship and Bit Rabbit.
More likely, the “full-term probe fire” is a direct indication of the fact that the Pathfinder Raptor vacuum engine shuts down quickly, irritates and shuts down – avoiding premature shutdown. In other words. For engines as large and complex as the Raptor, even the explanation below will represent impressive achievement.
See Teslarati’s new newsletter For instant updates, ground vision and a unique overview of SpaceX’s rocket launch and recovery processes.