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The RVac makes its first appearance while tethering to the bottom of a Starship in a test fire at dusk.
SpaceX, Elon Musk’s spaceflight juggernaut, is in the middle of a long licensing process with the Federal Aviation Administration over whether to launch the mammoth Starship into orbit from the coast of Boca Chica, Texas. Meanwhile, he continues on his merry way, testing a variant of the super-powerful Raptor engine.
On Thursday, SpaceX shared a video of the Raptor vacuum engine integrated into a Starship prototype firing for the first time at dusk at Starbase on the Texas coast. While the vacuum is technically being tested for the second time, SpaceX is doing this for the first time with the engine attached to the rocket.
Starship is designed to transport humans to the moon and eventually to Mars. The Raptor vacuum (or “RVac”) engine is basically the “space” version of the Raptor engines that will take off from Earth under the Super Heavy booster.
Vacuum engines have a much larger nozzle and are designed to operate more efficiently in outer space than the “sea-level” version of the Raptor. The Starship is expected to be equipped with three RVac and three standard Raptor engines for flights across the solar system.
You can see the test shots below.
First firing of a Raptor vacuum engine integrated onto a Starship pic.twitter.com/uCNAt8Kwzo
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) October 22, 2021
A second static test fire was reported by Space.com later in the evening.
SpaceX still has a long way to go to get Starship into orbit. After a group of successful test flights (including some that ended in explosions) have reached an altitude of about 6 miles (10 kilometers), SpaceX is preparing for its next prototype flight. But the FAA is currently seeking public comments on a draft of the FAA’s Environmental Assessment, which is required under the National Environmental Policy Act before the agency issues SpaceX a launch license for Starship’s first orbital flight.
This period is expected to end on November 1, after which the FAA will issue a final assessment. If the administration requests a full Environmental Impact Statement, we could see many more test shots in the field.