Enlarge /. A look inside the throat of SN4 showing a single Raptor motor mounted inside.
For the first time, a prototype of the SpaceX spacecraft spacecraft lit its engine on Tuesday evening. The Raptor rocket engine appeared to burn for about 4 seconds after firing. At the end of this test at the starting point in southern Texas, the vehicle was still standing. About 90 minutes after the test, SpaceX founder and chief engineer Elon Musk confirmed that the test fire was good and said, "Starship SN4 passed static fire."
The Tuesday night test, which took place at 8:57 p.m. CT local time in Texas (13:57 UTC Wednesday), took place eight days after a successful pressure test of this Starship prototype known as the SN4. The engineers are now reviewing the data before possibly performing another static fire test or a small jump. If this vehicle survives additional testing, it can ultimately make a 150-meter jump over the scrubby lowlands of Texas.
This test also took place less than a week after NASA SpaceX placed an order for $ 135 million to develop Starship as a Lunar Lander – a vehicle used to transport cargo and crew from orbit to the surface and back . Although Starship is the most ambitious of three countries that NASA is considering as part of its Artemis program, it is also the only one that is actively testing full-size prototypes.
Spaceship SN4 STATIC FIRE!
For the first time, a Raptor fired a SpaceX spacecraft. You will check it out, so we hope the data shows that it was a good test!
– Chris B – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) May 6, 2020
Last August, SpaceX flew a fat vehicle called Starhopper with a single Raptor engine. The aim of this vehicle was to test the basic installation for the Raptor motor and to determine whether its flight can be controlled for safe ascent and descent. Although the Starhopper made a hard landing, it survived this test and SpaceX built a full-size prototype of Starship.
Since November 2019, the company has lost three full-scale Starship prototypes in cryogenic and pressure tests. The last mistake occurred on April 3. SN4 is the first vehicle to survive the pressure test to continue work. Now it has taken the crucial step to ignite at start pressure – a tough test given the challenges of working with supercooled fuels at high pressure – and then safely shut down.
SN5 is waiting in the wings
The vehicle on the pad in Texas is not the full configuration of Starship because it lacks a nose cone, flaps, and other functions required for flight. However, it encompasses most of the vehicle, including its liquid methane and liquid oxygen tank structure. These propellants are the most difficult parts to control on a missile, and static fire tests are the ultimate test.
As part of its fast, iterative design process, SpaceX has already stacked SN5, the next Starship prototype. It could very well fly higher than the SN4 and always deliver more data to the SpaceX engineers as they try to understand their new, powerful rocket ship.
Starship is the "top tier" of a two-part, fully reusable launch system developed by SpaceX. The company's ultimate goal is to use the "Super Heavy" rocket to put the spaceship into orbit, where the vehicle can either carry cargo to a specific destination or carry dozens of passengers.