SpaceX will begin testing a methane-fueled rocket engine next year, according to Space News.

The Raptor is “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,” according to SpaceX spokeswoman Emily Shanklin. “The Raptor engine currently in development is the first in what we expect to be a family of engines.”

Methane engines are considered a key technology for Mars exploration and settlement because methane can be produced from carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere. NASA has done work on small methane engines, for that reason. NASA paid XCOR Aerospace and Alliant Techsystems (ATK) $3 million to develop a 7,500-pound-thrust LOX/methane engine, which could be used in alternative service module for NASA’s Orion capsule. Work on the engine was completed in 2007. (NASA has no plans to use the engine at this time, however.)

XCOR/ATK XR-5M15 rocket engine

The Raptor engine is expected to be much larger than the XCOR/ATK XR-5M15 engine. According to Space News, the Raptor will produce 660,000 pounds of thrust in vacuum (about 30% larger than the Space Shuttle Main Engine).

Raptor testing will be performed at NASA Stennis Space Center in Louisiana, rather than SpaceX’s usual rocket test facility in McGregor, Texas. SpaceX must negotiate a reimbursable Space Act Agreement to rent facilities first, however.

Written by Astro1 on October 26th, 2013 , SpaceX

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    jim brown commented

    If SpaceX does the same kind of setup it did with the Merlin engine in a Falcon 9 and Heavy will that mean it has a supper heavy lifter of 200 tons to LEO? Or is it mostly working off Mars in a single engine setup? Will the Rapture be a fully reusable launch setup like they want the Falcon 9 and Heavy to be?

    I think I have a simple solution to the two problems they are having. Relight after a period of zero G and getting it down and back to the launch pad quickly and cheaply. I with I could talk to one of their engineers.

    October 29, 2013 at 3:07 pm