SpaceX has long had its sights set on Mars, with plans to start colonizing the red planet by the mid-2020s. That may seem like an impossibly ambitious dream, but the company just got a lot closer to making it a reality.
The Elon Musk-founded company has officially started testing the Raptor engine that will ultimately power its Mars Colonial Transporter. A SpaceX spokesperson confirmed the news to Ars Technica, revealing that development testing has begun at a facility in McGregor, Texas.
The new engine is reportedly three times more powerful than the Merlin engines used to power the company’s current Falcon 9 rockets. We still don’t know many details, but Musk previously suggested the Raptor could boast a thrust of 500,000 pounds. We should learn more at the International Astronautical Conference, which kicks off on September 26 in Mexico.
SpaceX still isn’t expected to send any manned missions to Mars until the 2020’s and it could be a while before the Raptor engine is ready to go. In the meantime, the company is planning to send an unmanned Red Dragon capsule to the planet as soon as 2018 to begin studying the landscape.