SpaceX plans to begin testing components of a methane-fueled engine called Raptor at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi early 2014. SpaceX will perform these tests at Stennis’ E-2 test facility, which will require an upgrade to accommodate the full Raptor engine — a closed-loop methane-oxygen concept SpaceX is working on for missions to deep space. The upgrades would be funded by SpaceX, NASA and the Mississippi Development Authority. SpaceX’s Raptor engine is designed to generate more than 661,000 pounds of thrust in a vacuum.
The current Raptor concept “is a highly reusable methane staged-combustion engine that will power the next generation of SpaceX launch vehicles designed for the exploration and colonization of Mars,” Shanklin said. “The Raptor engine currently in development is the first in what we expect to be a family of engines.”
Staged combustion, also called closed-loop combustion, will be a new trick for SpaceX. The company’s Merlin family of kerosene-fueled rocket engines, currently in use on its Falcon 9 rocket, use an open-cycle, gas-generator configuration. Given identical fuel-oxidizer mixtures and propellant flow volumes, a closed-loop engine is more efficient than one with an open loop configuration.