SpaceX — the maker and operator of the Dragon spacecraft that runs periodic cargo flights to the International Space Station — has signed a contract to research, develop and test Raptor methane rocket engines at the NASA Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi.
The California-based company plans to use the E-2 test stand at Stennis, which is able to support both vertical and horizontal rocket engine tests. (Here are some more technical details from NASA on its capabilities.)
“We have been talking with SpaceX for many years about working at Stennis Space Center, and I am pleased to officially welcome them to our Mississippi family. I hope this is just the beginning of their endeavors in our state,” stated U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss) in response to the news. A press release from his office said the presence of the private space company would boost jobs in the region.
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There’s little information on SpaceX’s website about what the Raptor engine is or specific development plans, but Space News reports that it would be used for deep-space missions. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has mentioned the engine previously when talking about Mars missions, according to multiple media reports.
“We are looking to test the whole engine at Stennis, but the first phase starts with the components,” SpaceX spokesperson Emily Shanklin said in the Space News report. “The E-2 stand at Stennis is big enough for components, but we would need a bigger stand for the whole Raptor.”
The two sides are reportedly hashing out a Space Act agreement to establish user fees and other parameters. Once that’s finished, the testing will begin, perhaps as early as next year. SpaceX currently does most of its rocket testing in Texas.
Other parties in the agreement — which was signed by Governor Phil Bryant — include the Mississippi Development Authority, the Harbor Commission and Hancock County Port.