SpaceX’s Raptor engine has reached the necessary power levels to send the Starship into space, CEO Elon Musk confirmed on Thursday. The engine, which is currently undergoing tests at the firm’s Boca Chica facility in Texas, is expected to help send the first humans to Mars and enable society to establish propellant plants and explore even further.
It’s the latest breakthrough for SpaceX’s ambitious design, which uses liquid oxygen and methane for its fuel instead of more traditional rocket propellant, enabling a team of Mars explorers to visit the planet and harvest the fuel to return home. Musk stated that the final Starship design requires the engine to offer at least 170 metric tons of force. During the tests, however, the team was able to reach 172 metric tons and 257 bar chamber pressure using warm propellant. This should offer a 10 to 20 percent performance boost when the rocket stores the propellant in a deep cryogenic state.
The Starship is central to these plans. The company plans to use 31 of these engines for the booster, resulting in a liftoff thrust originally noted at the launch as 5,400 tons. Another seven engines will power the ship itself. The first major test will be short hop tests of a few hundred kilometers using a miniaturized version of the steel Starship. From there, Musk is aiming to produce an orbital prototype for 2020.
The firm is not the only company working on a liquid oxygen and methane design. Blue Origin’s BE-4, unveiled back in March 2017, has been gradually testing its own design. Ariane Cornell, a sales director for the firm, said last month that the next version of the engine is expected to reach 100 percent thrust, versus the 70 percent seen with other designs.
SpaceX is expected to complete its hop tests sometime over the coming month.
SpaceX is making impressive progress toward its goals, but how is the engine held in place during these tests? “Telekenesis,” Musk responded matter-of-factly on Twitter.