- SpaceX plans to use its new Raptor engines to power Starship and Super Heavy, two craft that would be used on a future Mars journey.
- The company has been testing its Raptor engines in Texas this week, though Thursday's announcement is the first time the engine has been shown able to produce the force necessary to lift Super Heavy and Starship.
- Raptor is powered by methane, a fuel source that SpaceX chose because the company hopes to someday generate it on Mars.
SpaceX has successfully tested the rocket engine it plans to use on its voyage to Mars.
CEO Elon Musk tweeted Thursday that the company’s Raptor flight engines have “achieved [the] power level needed” to launch Starship and Super Heavy into space. The news comes a few days after Musk published a video of SpaceX testing a “flight ready” Raptor engine at 60 percent power at a company facility in Texas.
Raptor is designed to power Starship, a reusable rocket system that SpaceX hopes will carry as many as 100 people to Mars. To accomplish that, the Raptor engine needs to produce at least 170 metric tons of force. On Thursday, Musk said the engine passed the test by hitting 172 metric tons of force, and also said the engine should offer a 10 to 20 percent performance boost when the rocket propellant is stored in a cryogenic state.
Before attempting a Mars journey, SpaceX wants to conduct “hop” tests in which the Starhopper rocket will blast off into low atmosphere and make a controlled descent to a landing zone. Starhopper is a smaller prototype of Starship, a crew transporter which will use seven Raptor engines. Meanwhile, Super Heavy will use 31 Raptors to launch Starship into space, making it nearly twice as powerful as the Saturn V rocket NASA used during the Apollo program.
Why SpaceX chose methane
Raptor is the most powerful engine SpaceX has developed, and it’s unique because it’s fueled by methane and liquid oxygen instead of the liquid oxygen-kerosene mix used in the company’s older Merlin engines. SpaceX hopes using methane as fuel will reduce costs and make its rockets more reusable. After all, methane is relatively easy to produce and store, and it burns cleanly, all of which make it well-suited for reusable rockets.
Another key asset of methane is that astronauts would likely be able to generate it on other planets. So, SpaceX envisions a future where spacecraft could land on a planet, generate methane, refuel and blast off, eliminating the need for astronauts to bring along return fuel.
What humanity will gain by going to Mars
The greatest space program spinoff? Human collaboration.