BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. (AP) — Private space exploration firm SpaceX and the Stennis Space Center have cut the ribbon on an improved rocket engine test stand.
SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, Calif., is supposed to conduct initial testing this year of its new Raptor engines, which will be powered by methane and liquid oxygen.
"We're no stranger to commercial testing," Stennis Director Rick Gilbrech said at Monday's ceremony.
"We've been in the commercial market for over a decade. We're very pleased to welcome Space X as a partner and commercial customer."
He said the company will start with a very fundamental test program — a single Raptor injector element.
The E2 stand, said Space X President and COO Gwynne Shotwell, is "one of the most capable high pressure test stands on the planet."
"The testing we will do here will pave the way to what I believe will be the largest LOX/methane system flying," she said.
The rocket engines tested there, she said, could eventually help Americans reach Mars. The company's aggressive timetable for the first such flight, she said, is 15-20 years.