SpaceX to test ‘game-changing’ rocket engine at Stennis’ E-2 Test Stand
BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. – Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA in the fall of 2013 to enable the company to test components of its new liquid oxygen (LOX) and methane powered “Raptor” engine on the E-2 test stand at the space agency’s Stennis Space Center located in south Mississippi. The engine is being developed by SpaceX to power a proposed new, and as yet unnamed, super heavy lift vehicle (SHLV) which the company hopes will, one day, transport humans to Mars.
This past Monday, on April 21, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at Stennis Space Center to commemorate the beginning of the testing program. On hand were Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, Congressman Steven Palazzo (Chairman of the House Science Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee), Center Director Rick Gilbrech, SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell, and SpaceX Director of Propulsion Operations Jeff Thornburg.
In her opening remarks, Shotwell informed the gathered crowd that SpaceX is currently “the largest, most prolific, producer of rocket engines, on the planet.” She went on to state that she was “happy to announce a continued partnership with NASA and a new partnership with the great State of Mississippi to bring the Raptor LOX / methane engine program to Stennis.”
Shotwell noted that the E-2 stand may look modest, but its actually “one of the most capable, high pressure test facilities on the planet” and that “the testing we will do here will pave the way for . . . . the largest LOX / methane engine system flying.”
When asked about the anticipated thrust of the new engine, Shotwell declined to give specifics, and stated that “a lot of the work that we’re going to do here at Stennis is going to inform our ultimate architecture for the Raptor engine.” She then stated that the engine would, in any case, generate “over a million pounds of thrust.”
SpaceX’s Jeff Thornburg followed by stating that the first test on the stand would take place in a matter of days and Shotwell added that the “initial testing” should last for about “a year or two.”
When asked to compare Raptor engine technology to other technology currently available, Thornburg explained that “there’s nothing like this that’s ever been produced before, in terms of rocket engine technology . . . . This is the first system, base-lined from the beginning, for flight with methane. And it incorporates engine cycling technologies for reusability that have
never been fielded in the history of propulsion development . . . Everything you see starting here on the E-2 complex, and growing beyond, will all be first of its kind in the world.”
SpaceX has made large strides in recent days. Just this past week, on April 18, the company conducted the third operational flight (and the fourth overall) cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. By all accounts the company’s attempt to have the Falcon 9’s first stage land safely was, at least partially, successful and now the Hawthorne, California-based firm has begun working at NASA’s Stennis Space Center.
Scott earned both a Bachelor's Degree in public administration, and a law degree, from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He currently practices law in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood. Scott first remembers visiting Marshall Space Flight Center in 1978 to get an up-close look at the first orbiter, Enterprise, which had been transported to Huntsville for dynamic testing. More recently, in 2006, he participated in an effort at the United States Space and Rocket Center (USSRC) to restore the long-neglected Skylab 1-G Trainer. This led to a volunteer position, with the USSRC curator, where he worked for several years maintaining exhibits and archival material, including flown space hardware. Scott attended the STS - 110, 116 and 135 shuttle launches, along with Ares I-X, Atlas V MSL and Delta IV NROL-15 launches. More recently, he covered the Atlas V SBIRS GEO-2 and MAVEN launches, along with the Antares ORB-1, SpaceX CRS-3, and Orion EFT-1 launches.