SpaceX has made great progress in developing reusable rocket boosters, and now appears ready to take on its next big challenge.
SpaceX sends next-generation rocket for testing
SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell revealed the development at the Small Satellite Conference in Utah. According to a report in Ars Technica, a company spokesperson has since confirmed that preparations are underway for testing.
Very little is known about the engine at this stage, apart from the fact that it is known as the Raptor. The engine will be used to power a reusable rocket based on the Falcon Heavy as part of the Mars Colonial Transporter project.
Raptor powerful enough for large payloads
Musk has previously said that the Raptor can produce 500,000 pounds of thrust at liftoff, making it three times as powerful as the engines previously used on the Falcon 9 and Heavy rockets. That figure would make it just as powerful as the Space Shuttle engine.
Musk predicts that that the Raptor will be able to take a spacecraft 100 times as big as an SUV into space, along with 100 tons of cargo. This large cargo capacity is incredibly important for Mars missions, due to the length of time that astronauts will be away from the Earth.
SpaceX aims to send astronauts to Mars around 2024. The testing of the new rocket engine means that this timeline does not seem entirely outlandish.
Ars Technica says that rocket development can take up to 7 years, and full-scale testing usually comes towards the end of that cycle. At this stage it is not clear whether the Texas tests will be full scale, but things are looking encouraging for SpaceX’s Mars ambitions.
NASA is also planning to send astronauts to Mars by the 2030s, so it might not be long before the first human touches down on the Red Planet.