Is SpaceX stepping up their game? has an intriguing article on the subject of SpaceX’s plans for future super heavy lift vehicles, heavier even than the Falcon Heavy (which is planned to have three Falcon 9 first stages strapped together) — the Falcon X and Falcon XX would be more powerful than even the Saturn V, and would likely require a new engine. The Merlin engine is very much state-of-the-art for kerosene burners, but the propellant does have its limits, and the engine isn’t robust enough for the many restarts over a long maintenance-free period that would be needed during a Mars mission.  So what are they planning?

Well, surprisingly, it appears that this time instead of perfecting a very reliable, tried-and-true combustion cycle and propellant combination, they’re considering treading new ground with a full-flow staged cycle methane/LOX engine, with a novel turbopump design that would greatly improve longevity and safety.  It’s very ambitious, and could be the answer . . . but have they finally bitten off more than they can chew?  The answer will likely come when they start test-firing the Raptor engine.  It’s not clear when that would be, but they’re in the process of modifying a test stand at Stennis Space Center to supply the methane/LOX combination.  So, probably sooner rather than later.  Exciting.  😉


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