SpaceX is now building one Raptor engine a day, NASA says

A senior NASA official said this week that SpaceX has worked “very well” on developing a vehicle to land humans on the surface of the Moon, taking steps to address two of the company’s biggest concerns. space agency.

NASA selected SpaceX and Starship for its human landing system in April 2021. In some ways, this was the riskiest choice of NASA’s options because Starship is a very large and technically advanced vehicle. However, due to the company’s self-investment of billions of dollars in the project, SpaceX submitted the lowest bid, and based on its previous work with SpaceX, NASA was confident the company would eventually deliver.

Two of NASA’s biggest technology development concerns were the new Raptor rocket engine and the transfer and storage of liquid oxygen and methane propellant in orbit, said Mark Kirasich, NASA deputy associate administrator who oversees the development of the Artemis missions to the Moon. At a NASA advisory board subcommittee meeting on Monday, however, Kirasich said SpaceX has made substantial progress in both areas.

About Raptors

The Raptor rocket engine is crucial to Starship’s success. Thirty-three of these Raptor 2 engines power the Super Heavy thruster that serves as the vehicle’s first stage, and six more are used by the Starship’s upper stage. For a successful lunar mission, these engines will need to successfully re-ignite on the surface of the Moon to return the astronauts to orbit inside Starship. If the engines fail, the astronauts will likely die.

“SpaceX has moved very quickly on development,” Kirasich said of Raptor. “We saw them making what was called Raptor 1.0. They have since upgraded to Raptor 2.0 which firstly increases performance and thrust and secondly reduces the number of parts thus reducing build and test time. They build these things very fast. Their goal was seven engines a week, and they hit it about a quarter ago. So they now build seven engines a week.

To put that into perspective, the Raptor 2 rocket engine produces about 510,000 pounds of thrust. That’s nearly identical to the amount of thrust produced by the RS-25 engine that will be used to propel NASA’s Space Launch System rocket. This engine was designed and developed by Rocketdyne in the 1970s for the Space Shuttle program, and the company has decades of experience manufacturing them.

In 2015, NASA awarded Aerojet Rocketdyne a $1.16 billion contract to “restart the production line” of the RS-25 engine. Again, it was money just to restore the manufacturing facilities, not to build the engines. NASA pays over $100 million for each one. With this seed funding, the goal was for Aerojet Rocketdyne to produce four of these engines per year.

Kirasich said that as it builds and tests Raptors, SpaceX is quickly iterating on those processes and producing higher quality engines.

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