In a pair of images released on Twitter, Elon Musk showed off SpaceX’s new Raptor engine for the Super Heavy rocket system, filling in more detail on SpaceX’s Starship currently in development.
SpaceX’s Raptor Engine
Preparing to fire the Starship Raptor engine at @SpaceX Texas pic.twitter.com/8JCOi1BG6z— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 1, 2019
People have been talking about SpaceX’s Raptor engine for nearly a decade now, so finally seeing the engine after all these years is bound to generate a lot of excitement, as well it should.
The Raptor engine is the successor of the Merlin engine that has powered SpaceX’s efforts to date and is the essential component of the Starship Super Heavy (SSH), a massive passenger vessel and rocket system that Elon Musk hopes will not only bring humans to Mars but possibly bring them back as well.
The SSH will be powered by an incredible 31 Raptor engines, which according to Inverse, will be capable of “a thrust of 1,700 kilonewtons with a specific impulse of 330 seconds at sea level, rising to 356 seconds in a vacuum, and an exit diameter of 1.3 meters.
“The vacuum engines will have a total thrust of 1,900 kilonewtons with a specific impulse of 375 seconds and an exit diameter of 2.4 meters. All this added up to a rocket capable of producing liftoff thrust of 5,400 tons to lift the total vehicle mass of 4,400 tons.”
The Starship Super Heavy
The SSH is the culmination of the original dream Elon Musk had for SpaceX. In 2002, Musk apparently became discouraged that NASA had delayed indefinitely a manned mission to Mars and decided to do something about it, founding SpaceX that same year.
This wasn’t entirely NASA's fault, of course, as its budget has faced repeated and sustained cutting since the end of the US-Soviet space race of the 1960s. In 1966, NASA accounted for 4.4% of the US Government’s budget; today, that number is less than 1%. Whether they liked it or not, the money simply wasn’t there for a mission to Mars. Musk hopes he can fill that void.
The hope is that SpaceX’s SSH will bring a manned mission to Mars, exciting the public to the possibilities of space exploration the way they were in the 1960s, and hopefully kicking off a new age of space exploration.
The reason why the Raptor is critical to the success of the SSH, which will ferry people and materials between us and Mars, is that it will be fueled by a mix of Oxygen and Methane. These two elements that can be sourced locally on Mars, allowing the BFR to refuel for the return trip to Earth.
“It would be pretty absurd to try to build a city on Mars if your space ships just kept staying on Mars and not going back to Earth, you’d have this massive graveyard of ships,” said Musk.
Raptor Engine Ready For New Round of Testing
The tweet that introduced us to the new pictures of the Raptor also indicates that SpaceX is ready to begin testing the engine at its McGregor, Texas facility.
When these tests will take place or what they will be testing is unclear at the moment, but you can be sure that millions of Musk’s followers will be waiting with bated breath for the next update on this extraordinary rocket engine.