SpaceX test fires next generation rocket engine

Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.


Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:

Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:


If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652

Capitalism in space: This week Elon Musk tweeted pictures of the first static test firing of the first flight Raptor engine, to be used on SpaceX’s next generation rocket, the Super Heavy first stage and the Starship upper stage.

The billionaire entrepreneur also tweeted out several videos of the 3-second test, which took place at the company’s development facility in McGregor, Texas.

Starship is the 100-passenger stainless-steel vehicle SpaceX is building to take people and cargo to Mars and other distant destinations. Starship will launch atop a giant rocket SpaceX calls Super Heavy. Both of these vehicles will be reusable and Raptor-powered. Starship will sport seven of the new engines, and Super Heavy will use 31 Raptors to get off the ground.

A “hopper” prototype that SpaceX will use to test the Starship design on short flights within Earth’s atmosphere will have three Raptor engines. This hopper will debut soon, Musk has said — perhaps within the next month or so, if everything goes according to plan.

This engine appears to be the first built with the intention to actually fly, and is likely going to be used in that “hopper” prototype.



  • Col Beausabre

    THIRTY ONE ENGINES !? Wow…that sounds like an awful lot of things to fail. As far as I know, the record is the Russian R-7 Semyorka (To the West it was known by the NATO reporting name SS-6 Sapwood and within the Soviet Union by the GRAU index 8K71) which had twenty main engines and twelve verniers burning at liftoff

  • That’s incorrect. The R-7 and it’s descendents have 5 engines, each with 4 chambers, plus verniers, all fed by the same set of 5 turbopumps. Look at it this way: a 6-cylinder car has one engine, not six engines. Anyway, the current record for a successu launch and flight is held by the Falcon Heavy, qhich has 27 distinct engines (and thus 27 sets of turbopumps). The jump from 27 engines to 31 engines is not very big. Not that long ago, people were predicting Falcon 9 would fail because it had “too many engines.” After all, it had one more engine than the 8-engine Saturn 1! This nonsense derives from an engineering dispute had back in the 1950s, called “Cluster’s Last Stand.” Look it up. As for “an awful lot of things to fail…”, failure stats depend on the failure stats of the individual engines. The only way more engines is worse than less engines is if you’re comparing vehicles with different numbers of the exact same engine. Otherwise, if a 1-engine rocket suffers and engine failure, it’s loss of mission, but a 31 engine rocket it’s not. The counter argument, that the 31-engine rocket has “more engines than it needs” is risible.

  • geoffc

    @WIllaim The Soviet N-1 had 32 engines (NK-15’s aiming to upgrade to NK-33’s which were built then, and used by Antares just recently) and they had an issue of resonance in the plumbing causing issues they did not expect.

    So there is more to just the raw engine count.

    Hopper is using 3 Raptors, of which this is one of them. Then they will test the upper stage with 7, and then move on to 31 on the first stage. So they will be making incremental changes after their experience with F-Heavy and 3 sets of 9 engines. So this is not as crazy sounding as it certainly does, at first.

  • That strikes me as not seeing the forest for the trees. I specified successful so as to eliminate the failed N-1, but the fact is, N-1 failed because of a Soviet lack of ground test facilities. They had to build and fly the rockets to test them. Saturn V succeeded on the first try because the US did have adequate testing facilties and what rockets exploded did so on the test stand. Back in the beginning, we didn’t have the facilities either, so the first few years saw many glorious in-flight explosions. SpaceX has actually had a couple of Falcon 9 failures (one on the pad, one in flight) that are analogous to the N-1 failures (Frozen oxygen in COPV overwrap? Who’d’a thunk it!! I think part of that is because, with a few exceptions, the SpaceX teams were young and re-inventing too many wheels. If you think about it, Musk himself was 31 when he started SpaceX and is 47 now. Remember Musk couldn’t hire a chief designer for love or money, and had to do the job himself armed with a basic physics degree (I think his econ degree from the Wharton school [sane as Trump] contributed equally to SpaceX success). The recent switch from composite to stainless for Starship shows how far up the learning curve they’ve gone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *