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Even though it continues to wait for government approval for the next Starship test flight, SpaceX is pumping out rocket engines in the hundreds for its new rocket. Starship, the world’s biggest rocket, is currently being tested in Boca Chica, Texas, and the vehicle is an entirely new design over SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9. Starship uses Raptor engines to generate millions of pounds of thrust, and these engines have often created worries due to the high number on Starship.
However, a lull in orbital test flights has allowed SpaceX to ramp up the Raptor production line, and now, it appears that the firm has manufactured close to four hundred rocket engines.
SpaceX Beefs Up Raptor Rocket Engine Production To Remove Critical Constraint For Starship
Raptor production has been one of the key pain points of the Starship program, at least during the early days of SpaceX’s testing campaign. The engine is significantly more powerful than the Merlin engines that power the Falcon 9 rocket, and it also redirects all of its exhaust gasses back into the combustion chamber to improve fuel efficiency and power output. Naturally, this requires highly durable parts and a new manufacturing process.
SpaceX’s chief Elon Musk was candid in mentioning these problems during a detailed talk in 2020, where he shared that the first Starship tests would use fewer engines. A year later, in 2021, SpaceX was producing one engine every two days, indicating that the firm could make as many as 176 engines in a best case scenario where production lines ran 24/7. Sticking to its rapid production and design philosophy, the firm managed to double this rate the next year. This was revealed by NASA’s deputy associate administrator Mark Kirasich shared during a NASA Advisory Council meeting that SpaceX had ramped up the production.
ArsTechnica quoted him as:
SpaceX has moved very quickly on development. We’ve seen them manufacture what was called Raptor 1.0. They have since upgraded to Raptor 2.0 that first of all increases performance and thrust and secondly reduces the amount of parts, reducing the amount of time to manufacture and test. They build these things very fast. Their goal was seven engines a week, and they hit that about a quarter ago. So they are now building seven engines a week.
Now, SpaceX might have manfuactred as many as 398 Raptor rocket engines, according to an image shared by NASA’s deputy administrator Pam Melory. She visited SpaceX’s facilities as part of NASA’s human landing system (HLS) lunar lander for the Artemis program. The HLS lander is a customized Starship second stage, and like the Super Heavy booster, it also uses Raptor engines for lift off and landing.
Deputy administrator Melroy’s picture saw her stand in front of fully assembled Raptor engines and in the top left corner, an engine with the serial number 398 visible on its nozzle bell. All of SpaceX’s latest Starship engines are Raptor 2 engines, and according to its chief Elon Musk, these reduce a lot of complexities over the Raptor 1.
NASA and SpaceX have continued to work together closely on Starship development due to the Artemis programs’ reliance on the HLS lander. After her visit, Ms. Melroy expressed confidence in SpaceX’s Starship and Raptor development as well as its Dragon production capabilities.
Had a fantastic day @SpaceX! It was a productive visit where we were briefed on the HLS program, got a glimpse of Raptor development, and witnessed the impressive Dragon production in action. pic.twitter.com/KDjVERS3hd
— Pamela Melroy (@Astro_Pam) October 30, 2023