Elon Musk: SpaceX Raptor rocket engine ready for Starship

A test of the Raptor engine shows it's powerful enough for Starship and the Super Heavy rocket.

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Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
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Jackson Ryan was CNET's science editor, and a multiple award-winning one at that. Earlier, he'd been a scientist, but he realized he wasn't very happy sitting at a lab bench all day. Science writing, he realized, was the best job in the world -- it let him tell stories about space, the planet, climate change and the people working at the frontiers of human knowledge. He also owns a lot of ugly Christmas sweaters.
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We know what SpaceX's next-generation Starship looks like. Now Elon Musk has shared a series of new looks at the Raptor engine that'll one day rocket it off our planet -- including a sublime display from its first test firings.

Musk first posted a pair of images to Twitter on Feb. 1 showing a Starship Raptor engine and saying SpaceX was preparing to fire it at SpaceX's Texas facility. One of the images included a worker standing near the engine, giving us a good sense of its scale.

Those images were just a warm-up. Musk posted a blazing-hot view on Thursday of the engine in action, saying, "Raptor just achieved power level needed for Starship and Super Heavy."

Musk says the Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket designs require an engine that can put out at least 170 metric tons of force. The most recent SpaceX Raptor test showed the engine reached 172 metric tons of force.

Raptor rising

The Raptor has been under development for years, but Musk said in December that the latest version is "radically redesigned." Musk spilled a few geeky details on the test engine's thrust and how it's geared toward reaching the moon as fast as possible.

The moon goal is an important one. SpaceX and Musk announced last year that Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa had bought up all the seats for a planned 2023 Starship mission to travel around the moon.

Musk says Starship will eventually have seven of the new engines. SpaceX currently has a "hopper" prototype of the stainless-steel Starship meant for takeoff and landing tests, with hopes of unveiling an orbital version by midyear.

Musk has been openly engaging with SpaceX fans on Twitter. One asked if he's finding rocket engine design easier or harder over time. "Well, my past mistakes do seem extremely dumb, especially the ones where I mistakenly thought I was smart," Musk replied.

Burn, baby, burn

Starship is meant to eventually be paired with a Super Heavy rocket, formerly known as the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR). Super Heavy will use up to 31 Raptor engines, though Musk says initial tests will probably involve fewer engines "in case it blows up."

On Feb. 4, Musk uploaded a couple of videos of the test firing to his Twitter account, and, it goes without saying but, you wouldn't want to be standing behind this thing when it's ready to blow.

Musk envisions a future in which Starship carries humans all the way to Mars and helps establish an outpost on the red planet. 

SpaceX suffered a setback in January when high winds in Texas toppled the nose cone off the Starship prototype. Musk said at the time it'd take several weeks to repair the damage. 

In the meantime, Musk has dropped insider looks at heat-shield testing and now the Raptor preparations, showing that development on Starship is moving ahead at a rapid pace.

SpaceX will need to keep the rocket pedal to the metal if it wants to make its proposed 2023 date with the moon.

Elon Musk Shows Off the Shiny SpaceX Starship

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First published Feb. 1, 8:20 a.m. PT.
Updates Feb. 3 at 8:12 p.m.: Adds test-firing images and videos from Elon Musk's Twitter account; Feb. 7 at 10:22 a.m.: Includes new test-firing image and details from Elon Musk's Twitter account. 

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