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19 September 2023

SpaceX Successfully Simulates Cold-Start of Their Raptor Engine to Prepare for 2024 Moon Mission

By Bobby Carlton
SpaceX Raptor

NASA successfully test-fired a SpaceX engine from a cold start to simulate the extreme conditions of the ice-cold vacuum of space.

SpaceX has achieved a significant milestone in their preparation for the upcoming crewed lunar mission, underscoring the vital role of simulations in aerospace and space exploration. In a recent announcement, NASA disclosed that they had successfully test-fired a SpaceX engine from a cold start to simulate the extreme conditions of the ice-cold vacuum of space.

The test was carried out on SpaceX’s platform, and a recently posted video shows SpaceX’s Raptor engine producing a controlled jet fire. This test marks a significant step in NASA’s plan to use a lunar variant of its Starship spacecraft for their upcoming Artemis missions to the moon in 2025. The agency’s decision to use a cold start was prompted by the need to ensure that the spacecraft can endure the extremely cold temperatures of space.

SpaceX secured a major contract from NASA in 2021 for the development of a lunar lander. Last year NASA granted a contract option to SpaceX to further enhance the Starship spacecraft. These investments underscore the critical role that SpaceX is poised to play in NASA’s lunar exploration endeavors.

This simulation test paves the way to SpaceX’s much-anticipated second attempt to launch a spacecraft on an orbital mission. The next step is for the company to receive approval from the FAA and takes them a step forward to much larger NASA lunar ambitions.


Simulation is crucial for space exploration and the aerospace industry for several reasons:

  1. Cost-Efficiency: Developing and launching spacecraft and aircraft is extremely expensive. Simulations allow engineers and scientists to test designs and systems in a virtual environment before committing to physical prototypes and missions. This can help identify and rectify issues early in the design process, reducing the need for costly modifications and mission failures.
  2. Safety: Space missions involve a high degree of risk due to the harsh and unforgiving environment of space. Simulations enable engineers to model various scenarios and contingencies, helping to ensure the safety of astronauts and the success of missions. This includes simulating emergency procedures, space debris avoidance, and astronaut training.
  3. Realistic Testing: Simulations can mimic the conditions of space and atmospheric flight with a high degree of accuracy. This allows engineers to subject spacecraft and aircraft to realistic and extreme conditions that cannot be replicated in a laboratory or during actual missions. Testing in these simulated environments helps identify potential problems and vulnerabilities.
  4. Rapid Prototyping: Simulations allow for rapid prototyping and iterative design. Engineers can quickly make changes to a design, run simulations to evaluate the impact, and iterate on the design as necessary. This speeds up the development process and leads to more efficient and reliable spacecraft and aircraft.
  5. Training and Skill Development: Simulators are essential for training astronauts, pilots, and ground crews. They provide a safe and controlled environment for individuals to practice procedures, emergency responses, and mission-specific tasks. Training in simulators helps build expertise and confidence in complex and high-stress situations.
  6. Mission Planning: Simulations are used extensively in mission planning to optimize trajectories, orbital maneuvers, and resource allocation. They help mission planners make informed decisions about mission parameters, including launch windows, landing sites, and fuel consumption.
  7. Scientific Research: Simulations are valuable tools for conducting scientific research in space and aerospace. Scientists can use simulations to model and study celestial phenomena, planetary atmospheres, and other space-related phenomena. These simulations aid in the interpretation of data collected from space missions.
  8. Autonomous Systems: Many space missions and aerospace applications rely on autonomous systems and robotics. Simulations are essential for testing and refining the algorithms and software used to control these systems. Simulated environments allow for the evaluation of autonomous decision-making and navigation capabilities.
  9. Validation and Verification: Before launching a mission, it is crucial to validate and verify the performance of spacecraft and aircraft systems. Simulations can help confirm that the systems will operate as expected in the real environment, reducing the risk of mission failure.

The developments highlight the intensifying competition within the field of space exploration. India’s successful landing of its spacecraft on the moon positioned it as a prominent player in lunar exploration efforts. Also, Japan launched a satellite and a rover on the moon as part of its ongoing lunar exploration campaign.

China, on the other hand, unveiled its plan to send humans to the Moon by 2030. This move intensifies the competition between the US and China in the field of lunar exploration. Unfortunately, the pursuit of such endeavors can be affected by tragic incidents, such as Russia’s disastrous landing on the lunar surface.

The race to establish a permanent presence on the Moon has immense significance. Besides being an international symbol, it can serve as a launching pad for future missions to other planets. The moon also offers promising resources that can be used by participating nations.

To achieve these goals, we need to use simulation to help research all of the “what ifs”. We can’t just jump into a spaceship and visit the moon or other planets to figure that out. Simulations play a pivotal role in space exploration and the aerospace industry by improving cost-efficiency, enhancing safety, enabling realistic testing, facilitating rapid prototyping, supporting training and skill development, aiding in mission planning, advancing scientific research, refining autonomous systems, and ensuring the validation and verification of systems and missions.

These benefits contribute to the overall success and progress of space exploration and aerospace endeavors.

Please reach out to us for a discovery call if you’d like to know more about how simulation can help your organization and about the simulation work being done by FS Studio.