Most spaceflight firms would never hang around on Twitter and randomly tweet information on upcoming rocket designs. But most companies aren’t SpaceX, and most CEOs aren’t Elon Musk. During his daily Twitter ramblings, Musk revealed that the Starship launch platform is now up to a total of 41 Raptor engines. Although, he jokes that the design is begging for just one more.
In his initial tweet, Musk announced that the Starship Super Heavy would have 35 Raptor engines in total. After a request for clarification, Musk explained that the “full stack” of the Starship and Super Heavy launch vehicle will have 41 engines — 35 of those will be on Super Heavy and another six on the Starship itself. From what we know of the Starship’s design, the craft will have three Raptors optimized for use in the atmosphere and three others designed for vacuum usage.
Before this most recent update, the Super Heavy was slated to have just 31 Raptor engines. Traditionally, rockets have relied on smaller numbers of more powerful engines. However, SpaceX has always gone the other way. According to Musk, the added complexity is outweighed by the redundant nature of having many engines. If one or two fail, the vehicle can still fly its mission.
Musk has explained many of the Starship’s design updates and milestones on Twitter. For example, the momentous test firing of the Raptor engine earlier this year and the name change from BFR (Big Falcon Rocket) to Starship, perhaps a more suitable name for something that could one day ferry 100 passengers to Mars. SpaceX is closing in on the first real test flight of the Starship in a configuration known as the StarHopper. That vessel will lift off, hover, and land safely. Late this year, the company could launch a high-altitude sub-orbital version of the Starship later this year. The first orbital flight is currently scheduled for 2020.
At 41 engines for the full stack, the count is just one shy of the answer to life, the universe, and everything from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. No one really knows why Elon Musk does the things he does, so it would not be shocking at all to see another engine pop up on the final Super Heavy. After all, this is the man who launched his car into space on top of the most powerful rocket in the world.
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