While the space billionaire race takes place near Earth, at around 50 to 62 miles high (80-100 km) between Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson and Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos, Musk has bigger plans: Mars. Towards that goal, he is putting big money and resources into the Starship program, which aims to create a reusable and interplanetary launch vehicle.
To power the 120 meters (394 feet) long spaceship, he has designed the Raptors engines. These engines run on cryogenic liquid methane and liquid oxygen rather than the RP-1 kerosene and liquid oxygen used in SpaceX’s prior Merlin and Kestrel rocket engines. A Raptor is able to deliver more than twice the thrust of a Merlin that powers their current Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles.
The Raptor engine’s first flight version arrived in McGregor, Texas, in January 2019 and was first flown on the Starhopper test vehicle later that year in July, making it the world’s first full-flow staged combustion rocket engine. As of August 2020, Raptor also holds the record for the highest combustion chamber pressure ever produced by a working rocket engine.
Now, to colonize an alien planet, only three such powerful engines that’d be needed for a Starship spacecraft are certainly not enough. For an entire fleet, SpaceX would require hundreds of them to be able to carry an entire population and cargo to Mars.
A Twitter user asked SpaceX founder Elon Musk about the company’s plans for a Raptor facility in South Texas on Saturday, July 10th. To that end, Musk announced that a second Raptor plant will “break ground” in Texas, focusing on Raptor 2 engines, while another branch in California will focus on Raptor Vacuum (a variant of Raptor with an extended, regeneratively-cooled nozzle for higher specific impulse in vacuum conditions) and “new, experimental designs.”
Another user asked what volume production the billionaire is aiming for. He went on to reply that SpaceX will build “roughly 800 to 1000 per year.” These numbers will be enough to create a fleet in 10 years that would construct a self-sustaining city on Mars.
“City itself probably takes roughly 20 years, so hopefully it is built by ~2050.”, he added.
It’s an ambitious goal that we have yet to see meet the expectations. This is not the first time Musk has said that he aims to put humans on Mars. Musk mentioned a few years ago that the first basecamp on Mars, named Alpha, should be operational by 2030. While that is unlikely to happen, we will have to wait and watch how the stars align for Mr. Musk.
Roughly 800 to 1000 per year. That’s about what’s needed over ten years to create the fleet to build a self-sustaining city on Mars. City itself probably takes roughly 20 years, so hopefully it is built by ~2050.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 10, 2021