SpaceX installs Starship Raptor engine, moves next test forward as storms near

SpaceX has installed a Raptor engine on Starship SN6 ahead of the rocket's first static fire and hop test. (NASASpaceflight - bocachicagal)

SpaceX has installed a Raptor engine on its sixth Starship prototype in preparation for a static fire test that is now scheduled later this week.

Originally planned no earlier than (NET) Monday, August 24th, SpaceX recently moved the Starship test window forward 24 hours to Sunday, August 23rd. Why is a mystery but the company may be attempting to squeeze in the test before a tropical storm is expected to make landfall in South Texas.

Per NOAA, the impact of that storm will begin to be felt at SpaceX’s Boca Chica factory as early as Sunday, bringing with it a ~20-40% chance of rain showers and thunderstorms from Sunday to Thursday, at minimum. SpaceX weathered a glancing blow from Hurricane Hanna just a few weeks ago and it’s looking like the week of August 23rd will have fairly similar – if not milder – conditions.

Starship SN6 offers a glimpse of its landing legs on August 12th. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)

The forecast for Sunday shows a 20% chance of rain storms and thunderstorms, meaning that there’s at least an 80% chance that SpaceX – barring technical delays – will be able to attempt Starship SN6’s first static fire test sometime between 8am and 8pm local (UTC-5). Like all previous SNx Starship prototypes, that test will begin with a wet dress rehearsal – pressurizing and loading the rocket with liquid methane and oxygen – and proceed into what is known as a Raptor spin prime.

If the engine spins up its turbopumps with pressurized helium (spin prime) without issue, SpaceX will recycle the flow and follow with a preburner tests, ensuring that the hardware that turns Raptor’s propellant into combustible gas is working as expected. Finally, if both of those tests are completed, SpaceX will recycle the flow once again (essentially moving the countdown clock back) and attempt a Raptor ignition and static fire.

Given enough confidence in the engine and Starship prototype, SpaceX could technically move directly from a WDR into a static fire attempt with no delay in between, as a static fire technically begins with a sort of (incredibly brief) spin prime and preburner test. It’s more likely that SpaceX will choose a more cautious multi-step test for the first major Raptor operations with a new Starship prototype.

Starship SN6, August 13th. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)
Raptor SN29, August 18th. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)
SpaceX installed the engine on August 18th. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)

Based on Starship SN5’s successful static fire and hop test debut just three weeks ago, Starship SN6 could be ready for its own hop debut as early as Friday, August 28th, assuming a successful static fire on the first attempt and a few aborted hop attempts after that. If SpaceX avoids all delays, SN6 could technically hop as early as Thursday. According to CEO Elon Musk, the reason SpaceX is attempting another short Starship hop in the first place is to “smooth out [the] launch process” and “make flights simple & easy — many per day.”

As such, it’s actually reasonable to assume that SpaceX will try to test and hop Starship SN6 more quickly than SN5. Whether the company can manage that challenging feat with early Starship prototypes remains to be seen, of course, but if the coming storm doesn’t pose too much of a threat, we’ll find out soon enough.

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SpaceX installs Starship Raptor engine, moves next test forward as storms near
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