SpaceX's SN20 Starship prototype was fired up for the first time on Thursday, Oct. 21, marking a significant milestone in the vehicle’s journey to orbit.
The 165-foot tall (50-meter) SN20 performed a short "static fire" test at SpaceX's Starbase facility near Boca Chica, South Texas, at 8:16 p.m. ET Thursday (0016 Oct. 22, 22 GMT).
NASASpaceflight.com commentators pointed out that the test involved only one of the Raptors. The event was live streamed by NASASpaceflight.com. One engine of SN20 is a standard Raptor that can be used in seawater, while the other is a vacuum version that is designed to work in space.
Photos: SpaceX launches a super heavy rocket from the launch stand
SpaceX confirmed via twitter that the vacuum Raptor was ready to go about half an hour later. According to SpaceX, it was the first time that a vacuum Raptor had been integrated onto a Starship vehicle.
At 9:18 PM EDT (0118 GMT), on Thursday, SN20 started a second static-fire. The second static fire was brighter and stronger than the first one and could have involved both Raptors as NASASpaceflight.com commented.
First firing of a Raptor vacuum engine integrated onto a Starship pic.twitter.com/uCNAt8KwzoOctober 22, 2021 See more
SpaceX is currently developing Starship, which will transport people and cargo to Mars, the moon and other distant locations. NASA signed on to Starship, the first crewed lunar landing vehicle for its Artemis moon program.
Starship is made up of two components: Starship, a spacecraft known as Starship, and Super Heavy, a massive first-stage booster. Both can be reused and powered by Raptors 6 for the final Starship, and 29 for Super Heavy.
SN20 will soon have six Raptors, three standard and three vacuum. SpaceX will prepare the vehicle for an orbital flight trial in the next few months. This is a first for Starship's program. Starship prototypes have been launched before but they were only three-engine vehicles at most and could reach a maximum altitude limit of 6 miles (10 km).
Starbase will launch SN20 and a Super Heavy, known as Booster 4. The booster will splash down in the Gulf of Mexico about 20 miles (32km) from the launch location. If all goes according to plan, SN20 will reach orbit and splash down on the Hawaiian island, Kauai.
SpaceX hopes to launch the landmark test flight very soon. However, the timeline is not completely under the company's control. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is currently conducting an environmental assessment at Starship's orbital launch location. Although the FAA has released a draft, there is still much to do. The agency will accept public comments until November 1, and then incorporate them into the final report.
Today was SN20's first static fire, but the vehicle has been able to breathe flame before. SpaceX performed a short test of the preburners on Monday, Oct. 18, which heat and mix Raptor engines’ liquid methane or liquid oxygen propellants.
Mike Wall is the author and illustrator of "Out There" by Grand Central Publishing (2018). This book is about the search for alien life. Follow him @michaeldwall. Follow us on Facebook @Spacedotcom and Twitter @michaeldwall