Capitalism in space: SpaceX yesterday successfully completed the first static fire Raptor engine test on its fourth Starship prototype, laying the foundation for a planned 150-meter vertical hop later this month.
The test lasted about three seconds.
I want to make a quick comparison between SpaceX’s approach for developing Starship, and NASA’s development of SLS. The differences are stark.
First, SpaceX began cutting metal a little over one year ago, and is already testing a full scale prototype, fully fueled, with its planned flight engine.
SLS began development officially around 2011. It uses the engines from the Space Shuttle, so those are already flight proven. However, even after almost a decade of development NASA as yet to do a single static fire test with those engines actually installed on an SLS rocket, either a prototype or the real thing.
Second, in the past year SpaceX has been aggressively testing the fueling of Starship, using a series of prototypes. With this fourth iteration they have apparently gotten the fueling process and the tanks to work effectively. Further tests of course will increase their confidence in the system’s reliability.
SLS, even after almost a decade of development, has yet to do any similar tank tests. Instead, NASA has done separate individual tests of the rocket’s tanks, but never with everything fully assembled. The agency, and its lead contractor Boeing, hope to finally do their first full scale SLS tank test and static fire test sometime later this year. As they have never filled the tanks in this manner before, they have admitted that problems could arise, including the possibility that the tanks could leak.
Note the big difference. SpaceX has done this testing very early in development. NASA is doing it very late in development. Which to you seems the better approach?
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