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SpaceX set a new record earlier today when it became the first company in the world to test 14 rocket engines at the same time. The company is developing its Starship next generation rocket in Boca Chica, Texas, which is its new rocket for Mars missions. Starship's static fire is an important detail for the program's test timeline, as onlookers and industry watchers have been eagerly awaiting an orbital test flight for what will be world's largest rocket when it launches. Starship uses 33 Raptor 2 engines to generate a whopping 16 million pounds of thrust and the test used 14 engines according to the company's chief Mr. Elon Musk.
SpaceX Conducts Largest Rocket Test In Its History Just As Gwynne Shotwell Takes Over Starbase
The latest bit around Starbase comes courtesy of media reports which have claimed that SpaceX's president and chief operations officer Ms. Gwynne Shotwell is now leading the charge at Boca Chica, Texas. She is the second most influential person at the company after its chief Mr. Elon Musk, and news of her arrival at Boca Chica comes after the latter has immersed himself into his $44 billion takeover of the social media network Twitter.
Even though it has not conducted many engine firings, SpaceX has been busy with its test rockets throughout the course of this year. It has also regularly tested rocket engines at a separate facility at Texas, and these have provided for some spectacular views as the firm tested its equipment to the extreme and melted an engine's combustion chamber.
Another Starship test which took place earlier this year did not go well as a fire erupted at the bottom of the 230 foot tall Starship Super Heavy booster when SpaceX tested its pumps. Musk confirmed later on that a fuel rich air mixture was responsible for it; however, he refrained from providing more details.
The test took place at 12:51 pm CST and lasted roughly ten seconds. It was caught live by cameras providing round the clock coverage of the facility from NASASpaceflight and LabPadre. Initially, the number of engines used in the test was unclear, but Musk followed up soon and confirmed that his company had tested 14 rocket engines for the first time in its history.
SpaceX's largest operational rocket is the Falcon Heavy which uses 27 engines. However, the vehicle straps together three Falcon 9 rockets, each with nine engines, which then lets the company avoid the added complexity of managing fuel delivery to numerous engines at the same time and time their starting sequence as well. The Falcon Heavy uses SpaceX's Merlin 1D rocket engines, which have a simpler design when compared to the Raptor.
The Merlins do not redirect their pre burner exhaust gas back into the combustion chamber. This lets the designer avoid the complexity of working with even more high pressure, high temperature gas. However, the Raptor does redirect these, and therefore it requires precise startup timing to ensure that its myriad of different pumps are running together at the same time. The 14 engine Raptor 2 static fire generates thrust equal to 37 Merlin engines (at peak sea level thrust of 190,000 pounds for each Merlin), and if each engine generated 510,000 pounds of thrust then the full test resulted in 7.1 million pounds of thrust. NASA's Saturn V rocket that put humans on the Moon generated 7.6 million pounds at time of launch.
Today's test was a success, and soon after the massive firing, SpaceX successfully depressurized its rocket as well. Musk stated earlier this year that the rocket can conduct its orbital test flight as soon as this month; however, with the third week of November with us, his company has several boxes to tick before launching the world's biggest rocket into orbit. These include securing a license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and potentially conducting a full stack static fire of the rocket with all of its 33 engines. Should such tests be successful, then an orbital launch attempt will become clearer on the horizon.
You can check out the live static fire at the livestream below (on the 12:51 pm CST mark)!