SpaceX Gets an Air Force Funding Infusion for Raptor Engine

Operators at the E-2 Test Stand at Stennis conduct a test of the oxygen preburner component being developed by SpaceX for its Raptor rocket engine, which is being built to power flights to Mars. (Credit: NASA)
Operators at the E-2 Test Stand at Stennis conduct a test of the oxygen preburner component being developed by SpaceX for its Raptor rocket engine, which is being built to power flights to Mars. (Credit: NASA)

SpaceX’s plans for its high-performance Raptor engine got a boost last week when it received a $33.7 million contract from the U.S. Air Force.

Raptor, which will be powered by liquid oxygen and liquid methane, is designed for use on SpaceX’s super-heavy lift launch vehicle. That rocket would send the company’s Mars Colonial Transporter vehicles to the Red Planet.

Under the contract, SpaceX’s will develop a Raptor prototype for use as an upper stage on the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles.

SpaceX is contributing $67.3 million under the  jointly funded $100 million program. The Air Force could contribute a total $61.4 million if it exercises additional options. SpaceX’s total contribution would be $122.8 million if the government exercises all its options. Total contributions by both parties could total $184.2 million.

The Air Force is funding propulsion work by multiple companies as part of an effort to transition way from dependence on Russian- supplied RD-180 propulsion system used on ULA’s Atlas V rocket.

SpaceX will perform work on the program at its headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., NASA Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, and the Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif. Work is expected to be completed no later than Dec. 31, 2018.