Elon Musk has got his eyes firmly set on Mars and is working hard to get there. His company, SpaceX, has officially sent its new engine out for testing. The goal is simple: send a rocket to Mars in 2018. If they succeed, they’d be the first private company to ever reach another planet.
The new rocket is called the Raptor and is expected to be three times as powerful as Merlin, the current engine that powers the Falcon 9 rocket. It will have 230 metric tonnes of thrust (about 250 tons), which is about the same as the main engines of the space shuttle. A cluster of nine of these rockets will be used on the Mars Colonial transporter, and not on the Red Dragon which will go to Mars, according to Musk, in 2018.
The announcement that the company has shipped the Raptor to its testing facility in McGregor, Texas was mentioned at the Small Satellite Conference by SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell. This is good news for the ambitious objective of repeated Mars missions: full-scale testing is usually at the end of the technology development phase.
Although Musk has stated previously that he founded SpaceX to start a human colony on Mars, there are no details on what the 2018 mission is supposed to do. It might have a scientific goal, or could be just a demonstration that SpaceX has the technology to explore the Solar System. Although it's still early days, this engine might, in the future, be the one to take humans to Mars.
While in any other field there might be competition, NASA has announced that it will help Musk’s company in exchange for information on the mission. Any data will be important, for the space agency’s journey to Mars, which aims to have astronauts on the red planet in the 2030s.
The rocket testing is not the only good news for the space company. SpaceX has successfully completed its sixth barge landing, even though the launch and reentry were difficult due to the height the rocket had to travel to this time.