Spaceflight Insider

SpaceX Starship Ship 20 performs engine test

A view of Starship Ship 20 and Booster 4 during their first stacking process in early August. Credit: SpaceX

A view of Starship Ship 20 and Booster 4 during their first stacking process in early August. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX appeared to perform a test on Starship Ship 20’s Raptor preburners in the overnight hours after filling the prototype with its propellants.

At about 12:39 a.m. EDT (04:39 UTC) Oct. 19, 2021, at the company’s Starbase facility in South Texas, SpaceX appeared to perform a test on one or more of the Raptor engines at the base of Ship 20.

While it hasn’t been confirmed by the company, livestream video of the test from organizations such as NASASpaceflight showed a bright flash and a relatively quiet “honk.” There was no roar of a full Raptor static fire, which may still be planned in the coming days, potentially as early as tonight.

Ship 20 has three sea level Raptor engines and three vacuum-optimized Raptor engines. They consume liquid methane as fuel and liquid oxygen as oxidizer.

Following this test, the Starship prototype was detanked to allow for State Highway 4 to reopen.

SpaceX’s Raptors are considered “full flow staged combustion” engines, meaning it has two preburners — one fuel rich and one oxidizer rich — that power the turbopumps. The exhaust from the preburners are channeled separately into the main combustion chamber to help with the overall efficiency of the engine.

Preburners are essentially mini combustion chambers that burn propellant to create gas that is channeled through a turbine at high pressures to power turbopumps.

The turbopumps ultimately pull propellants from the fuel and oxygen tanks, which are funneled at high pressures into the main combustion chamber where the fuel and oxidizer react and are forced through a small throat and out the nozzle to form thrust.

Meanwhile, other activities continue at SpaceX’s build and test site in Boca Chica, Texas, as “chopstick” grabbers are being readied for installation on the launch tower and the fuel farm continues to grow.

SpaceX is gearing up to perform a full static fire test the sea level Raptor engines aboard its Starship Ship 20 vehicle after it recently successfully completed light pressure testing.

One of the main points of contention teams will be on the lookout for during the test will be the vehicle’s thermal protection system, or TPS, which is made up of thousands of heat-resistant tiles that are fitted to the underside of the ship.

One of the biggest challenges the team has faced has been finding a solution to prevent the tiles from falling off.

As build teams work to come up with solutions, the static fire test will paint a better picture as to the resiliency of the tiles in their current state.

Also at the launch site, the two “chopstick” grabbers, which will make up the “mechazilla” rocket catcher at the top of the orbital launch tower, have been staged into place to be prepared for installation.

The installation of the skate system that will allow the two giant arms to move vertically up and down the launch tower took place earlier in the week, making way for the two catchers to be hoisted and mounted into place, possibly as early as today.

As SpaceX prepares for its first orbital flight in the coming months, a giant white methane tank was spotted rolling to the launch site.

This methane tank is expected to be part of the growing fuel farm that will feed liquid methane and oxygen into the giant orbital rockets as they prepare for flight.

Derek Richardson contributed to this report


Having a life-long interest in crewed space flight, Desforges’ passion materialized on a family vacation in 1999 when he was able see the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on STS-96. Since then, Desforges has been an enthusiast of space exploration efforts. He lived in Orlando, Florida for a year, during which time he had the opportunity to witness the flights of the historic CRS-4 and EFT-1 missions in person at Cape Canaveral. He earned his Private Pilot Certificate in 2017, holds a degree in Aviation Management, and currently works as an Operations Analyst in the aviation industry in Georgia.

Reader Comments

Roberto cova Cova

Craving to see it succeed! my only concern is the TPS, it is the weakest link in this incredible maneuver.
Roberto from downunder

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