While we were sleeping, SpaceX and Elon Musk were firing a rocket engine that’ll one day propel a spaceship to Mars. This is a Raptor rocket engine, and it’s been fired at the SpaceX’s Rocket Development and Test Facility in McGregor, Texas. This is generally where the most intense and explosive testing work is done by the company – out in the flat fields, amongst the farms about halfway between Dallas and Austin.
The firing of this engine seems to have gone very, very well. Nothing went extremely wrong. With a test of this magnitude, with this sort of power inside an engine of this size, a worst-case scenario means fire, and lots of it. This test happened without major mishap.
Commentary on Reddit and confirmation from Musk himself suggests that the green light seen when the engine fires is one of two things. It could be an interpretation of the extreme light with which the engine blasted – the camera sensor might not have been able to handle such a load. It could also be that the engine’s chamber copper accidentally burned JUST a little bit.
This engine uses methox torch igniters, which are in turn started by “gaseous CH4/O2 & heavy duty spark plugs,” so said Musk. “Spark plugs ignite dual blow torches that ignite preburners and [the] main chamber.”
The first rocket firing happened right around 1AM Central Time on the morning of Sunday, February 3rd, 2019. So suggests Musk’s images shared throughout the day. Tests went on through the evening, with Musk’s continued sharing of images and video running through the evening – that was last night.
It’s unlikely that this specific engine will find its way to the planet Mars – but engines based on the tests this unit performs – they probably will. These engines will likely power the Starship once its in space as well as the Super Heavy rocket that’ll blast off from our planet in the first place. Early launching of said units are supposed to be taking off in the next several years.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen similar engine tests from SpaceX. We’ve seen similar tests back in September of 2016, and we’ve seen some fuel tank action as well. SpaceX is going to Mars, by god, if it’s the last thing they do!