SpaceX prepares for next phase of testing [photos]

After a successful Starship hop test last week, SpaceX is now preparing to launch its Starship prototype in a series of flight tests this month, as soon as the first prototype for the rocket’s first stage booster is complete.

As reported by, testing will commence soon on the Raptor engine model, a vital part for the orbital Starship missions. SpaceX recently flew prototype SN6 to an altitude of 150 meters.

The hop test was conducted at SpaceX’s facility in Boca Chica, South Texas. A similar test with the SN5 prototype was completed back in August.

Starship’s next testing phase

SpaceX founder Elon Musk shared an update regarding the next prototype, SN8, on social media over the weekend, saying “one way or another, excitement guaranteed”. He explained:

“SN8 Starship with flaps and nosecone should be done in about a week. Then static fire, checkouts, static fire, fly to 60 000 ft and back”.

But first, a ground test of SN7.1 has been pencilled in for Thursday, 17 September 2020, during which SpaceX engineers will take the tank to burst pressure test the limits of the structure.

Watch: Starship 150m flight test

SpaceX’s Raptor engines

The SN7 is made of a different stainless steel alloy than earlier Starship prototypes. According to SpaceFlight, the SN8 could “be the first Starship to fly with aero surfaces, a nose cone, and three Raptor engines”.

“So far, SpaceX has test-flown Starships with a single methane-fueled Raptor engine. Three throttleable Raptor engines, each capable of producing up to 440 000 pounds of thrust, will allow SpaceX to attempt more ambitious Starship test flights.”


SpaceX will, in due course, mount six Raptor engines to the base of the Starship. Furthermore, three of those will be similar to the existing engine models, and three will be fitted with larger nozzles.

The image below shows a side-by-side comparison of the two versions of SpaceX’s Raptor engine. The Raptor engine on the left has a standard nozzle designed for firings in the atmosphere.

The engine to the right is fitted with a larger nozzle which is optimised for “efficiency in the vacuum of space”.

spacex starship
The first Raptor Vacuum engine (RVac) for Starship has shipped from SpaceX’s rocket factory in Hawthorne, California to SpaceX’s development facility in McGregor, Texas. Image via Twitter: @SpaceX

Starship origins

The idea for a Starship programme began in 2012 and was initially known as the “Mars Colonial Transporter” (MCT). Testing began in December 2018, and the first prototypes – Starhopper and Mk1 – were built in March 2019.

The initial test flights were at low altitude, followed by the first successful static fire test of the Starhopper on 3 April 2019, which ignited the engine while the prototype remained tethered to the ground.

The first static fire test only relied on a single Raptor engine. The test lasted only a few seconds but was deemed successful by the SpaceX crew. A second tethered test took place two days later.

Starhopper versus Starship

Starhopper flew approximately 150 metres, but the prototype had a different shape than the current spacecraft. At the time, Elon Musk likened it to a water tower, whereas the current prototype is described as a grain silo.


spacex starship starhopper
Image via Twitter: @SpaceX


spacex starship starhopper
Image via Twitter: @SpaceX

Moreover, SpaceX used Starhopper to test a number of design elements for the Starship. However, the primary purpose of the testing will be to test the powerful Raptor engines which have been created for the deep-space rocket.

When complete, the 100-passenger Starship will then launch atop a huge rocket called the Super Heavy. The Super Heavy, in turn, will also be powered by 31 Raptor engines. Amazing, right?

“A year ago, there was almost nothing there, and now we’ve got quite a lot of production capability. We’re rapidly making more and more ships, and we’ll be starting production of the booster soon”.

Elon Musk, 31 August 2020.

Also read – Watch: SpaceX’s Starship prototype takes first hop towards Mars Protection Status

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