SpaceX continues making major strides on two of its most ambitious programs – the Starship super heavy-lift rocket and Starlink internet satellites. While the massive Starship awaits regulatory approval for its first orbital test flight, SpaceX has been using the development lull to mass produce Raptor engines needed to power the rocket. Concurrently, SpaceX’s Starlink division is expanding production to meet surging demand for its broadband internet service.
Photos recently shared by NASA Deputy Administrator Pamela Melroy indicate SpaceX has manufactured around 400 Raptor rocket engines thus far. The Raptor uses a complex full-flow staged combustion cycle to generate huge amounts of thrust while maximizing fuel efficiency. Ramping up reliable mass production of the intricate Raptor has been a key hurdle for Starship’s development.
At SpaceX’s South Texas facility, teams have been assembling the first orbital prototype Starship using a full complement of 33 Raptor engines – 6 for the spaceship upper stage and 27 for its Super Heavy booster. While early Starship test articles had fewer engines, Musk has said at least 24 Raptors are needed for an orbital flight.
Compared to the Merlin engines used on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets, the Raptor operates at significantly higher pressures and introduces all exhaust back into the combustion chamber for greater efficiency.
Having a stockpile of flight-ready engines will allow SpaceX to rapidly build new Starship-Super Heavy pairs once the initial prototype completes the test program. Starship’s next major milestone will be launching on its first orbital test flight pending regulatory approval.
Meanwhile, SpaceX posted job listings for a new Starlink kit production facility in Bastrop, Texas. The factory will help expand production capacity to keep up with growing demand for Starlink’s broadband internet service, especially in rural areas.
SpaceX has launched over 4,000 Starlink satellites to date, aims to launch up to 42,000 satellites to enable high-speed, low-latency internet accessible almost anywhere on Earth, and Unveils Direct To Cell Starlink to Offer Satellite Cellular Connectivity Globally.
Starlink partners with Maersk, Qatar Airways and Mitsui O.S.K. company Bring High-Speed Satellite internet, deal marks a major customer win for Starlink’s maritime service as it aims to digitally transform life and work at sea.
Having achieved reliable mid-flight recovery and reuse of its Falcon 9 rockets, SpaceX is now focused on mass manufacturing the next-gen Raptor engines and Starlink terminals needed to realize its vision of satellite internet coupled with Mars rocket transport. Both the Starship and Starlink programs highlight how SpaceX is leveraging vertical integration and rapid iteration to drive down costs and enable bold new space capabilities.