SpaceX Successfully Test-Fires Mars-Bound Raptor Rocket Engine
SpaceX has conducted the debut firing test of its Raptor engine that is expected to be used for the Mars humans mission.
Backed by a powerful propulsion system, the Raptor engine is three times powerful than the Merlin engines used in SpaceX Falcon 9.
CEO Elon Musk hailed Raptor for cost efficiency and huge liftoff thrust. As for the fuel, Merlin used kerosene and liquid oxygen while Raptor uses a mixture of liquid methane and liquid oxygen.
Musk posted images of a steady stream of the flame being spewed out by the new engine after the test and claims it will give a liftoff thrust of 500,000 pounds. It is, however, unknown how many Raptor engines will be used for launching interplanetary spacecraft BFS.
As of now, the Raptor appears powerful than any current rocket thanks to nine methane-fueled motors. The first official test of Raptor will be to lift the Interplanetary Transport System carrying 100 tons of cargo to the Mars.
Space X has been mulling the launch of an unmanned craft to Mars by 2018 and a human mission later. Many industry observers see the Raptor rocket testing as ambitious despite the recent launch pad mishap.
Pointing to "mach diamonds," Musk said the "production Raptor goal is a specific impulse of 382 seconds and thrust of 3 MN [680,000 pounds]," which is three times the Falcon 9.
Early in September, Musk said that Interplanetary Transport System —formerly known as Mars Colonial Transporter— will have a huge range and will go beyond the Red Planet. The heavy duty spacecraft will travel 225 million miles to the Mars.
The Raptor rocket engine was announced in October 2012 to expand on the powerful Merlin 1 series. Designed as a multi-stage engine, it will be cheap for the Mars mission as it is reusable.
Until 2015, the Raptor engine was fully funded by SpaceX. In early 2016, however, the U.S. Air Force came up with the offer to add $34 million for the upper stage prototype. Space X also extended $68 million to the project as a deal.
Meanwhile, Musk is expected to announce the plans of SpaceX to explore Mars colonization in Mexico, while addressing a global space conference.
The widely anticipated event follows the fire incident that destroyed a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at a pre-flight Cape Canaveral test in August.
While critics wonder whether SpaceX is taking too much by showing a rare penchant for breaking conventions in the case of aerospace industry, the fans of Musk are looking forward to hearing substantial plans.