SpaceX Receives Additional $40.8 Million from Air Force to Develop Raptor Engine

Raptor engine hot fire. (Credit SpaceX)

The U.S. Air Force has awarded an additional $40.8 million to SpaceX for the development of its Raptor rocket engine.

The funding, awarded under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, involves the extension of a $33.7 million contract originally awarded in January. SpaceX agreed to spend $67.3 million under the jointly funded program under the original contract.

At the time,  the Air Force had options to contribute a total of $61.4 million to Raptor’s development, with SpaceX contributing an additional $122.8 million for a total amount of $184.2 million.

On June 8, the Air Force added $16.8 million to the contract, raising its contribution to $50.5 million. The ceiling on government spending on the program was set at $95 million at the time.

Under the contract, SpaceX’s is developing a Raptor prototype for use as an upper stage on the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles. The engine, which will use liquid oxygen and liquid methane, also will power the spaceship that SpaceX Founder Elon Musk is developing to send people to Mars.

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.

  • Terry Stetler

    The Air Force also moved up the completion date of the SpaceX Raptor contract as well, changing it from December 31st 2018 to April 30th 2018. Sounds like things that McGregor are going well.

  • patb2009

    Is this EELV Phase II money?

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    What a deal the USAF is getting. For under 100 million dollars they are on track to getting a domestic supplier of FFSC methane booster engines. Traditional contracting for a program like this would be well north of a billion dollars and take twice is long…if ever completed.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Kicking a$$ and taking names. The cool part will be once the flight scale engine(s) are on the stand. The existing stand has three bays which I am sure will get some use once they are in qual for the flight scale engine.

  • windbourne

    Why will SX modify F9/FH upper stage with raptor? Greater cargo to GTO/TLI until BFR is built?
    And the money is supposed to be about getting companies off Russian equipment, which SX does not do.

  • Jeff2Space

    A few payloads/missions benefit from a “high energy” upper stage. The current LOX/kerosene Merlin powered upper stage is not at all “high energy”. This is one area where SpaceX is still behind ULA (both Atlas V and Delta IV have LOX/liquid hydrogen upper stages which are most definitely “high energy”).

    This wasn’t a priority for SpaceX early on because the Merlin powered upper stage was “good enough” for most payloads/missions. That and using a vacuum Merlin for the upper stage reduced costs since there was much commonality with the sea level Merlin used on the first stage.

  • duheagle

    The answer seems to be – sort of.

  • duheagle

    Some part of the NatSec space community seems to have a fairly specific requirement it wants to use SpaceX vehicles for without reference to BFR. One real possibility is a hedge against future hiccups at ULA that would compromise its ability to continue Delta IV Heavy missions. D-IV-H has never really had a backup. Perhaps USAF brass want one now – or as soon as they can get one – so that even ULA’s demise a few years hence would not keep vital payloads that currently require the D-IV-H from being stuck for a ride. If an improved FH can be ginned up fairly soon, then D-IV-H would finally have a real backup. Then, even if ULA did a dive down the drain, the NatSec folks wouldn’t be any worse off than they are now with only a singe vehicle type able to handle certain payloads.

    So long as the needed work is funded, SpaceX will be happy to do anything USAF, etc., want. The NatSec relationship is an important one to SpaceX and seems an increasingly happy one on both sides. SpaceX would certainly be willing to put resources into something important to the NatSec community even if doing so involves something that isn’t on SpaceX’s long-term strategic technical path.

  • windbourne

    Yeah, but what is wrong with current stage 2? Merlin is pretty well tested now, and the tankage issues solved ( hopefully ).

  • windbourne

    By high energy, more payload? Or higher altitude?

  • windbourne

    Lol.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    FH far exceeds D-IV-H to all destinations, even with the Merlin second stage, so Raptor is not needed to make FH a D-IV-H replacement.
    As a point of interest, first BFR construction is set for Q2 2018, and this contract is due for completion April 2018 – coincidence?, perhaps, but I doubt it.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Until there is an official announcement that states SpaceX is developing a brand new Raptor powered second stage for Falcon, I will continue to assume that all Raptor development is going towards BFR – especially in light of Elon’s statements in his IAC presentation.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    I’m wondering where these “high energy” destinations are?. An expendable (but still vastly cheaper) FH can put twice the payload to GEO, or the Moon, as compared to D-IV-H. Can you explain how D-IV-H may have an advantage and in what circumstances.

  • duheagle

    I offered a plausible hypothesis about what USAF is up to with the Raptor contracts. I am far from utter confidence that my notion is what is actually going on. I, too, would like some definite word from SpaceX on the matter, but I’m not expecting any to be imminently forthcoming. SpaceX has kept other things under wraps until just before “full visibility,” so to speak, the ASDS being a noteworthy example.

    I also agree that the coincidence of dates you pointed out may well have a meaning of which we don’t yet know the full significance. 2017 has been a banner year for SpaceX, thus far, and more significant milestones are all but certain by year’s end. 2018 is shaping up to put even 2017 in the shade. I expect the drumbeat of SpaceX firsts and surprises to both continue and increase in tempo next year.

  • duheagle

    I don’t know. I suspect the answer, for most purposes, is nothing. But USAF seems to have something pretty definite in mind. I’ve sketched out one possible motivation but it might prove to be something else entirely. Right now, I would rate the chances of our hearing more on this matter as well above an even money bet for sometime in 2018.

  • Michael Halpern

    that can also become almost moot if someone builds a space tug, or a few hundred space tugs to be more realistic

  • Michael Halpern

    the other advantage is they get to test Raptor in space and work on raptor manufacturing and remember, even though SpaceX downrated Raptor for throttle issues, if they ever figure out a solution, it will likely be uprated back up,

  • Jeff2Space

    More payload to higher altitude orbits.

  • Jeff2Space

    True, but the only things under development that’s like that would be ULA’s ACES upper stage and SpaceX’s BFR. Neither of which will fly anytime soon.

    I’d think it likely that a Raptor powered upper stage for Falcon will fly sooner than either ACES or BFR.

  • Michael Halpern

    Definitely, the advantage of a raptor upper stage isn’t so much the delta v, it’s the fact that they test it in space, just like how they reserved 30% fuel or delta v (can’t remember which) in the F9 first stage for landing tests, any extra delta v is just a bonus effect and makes the launcher more attractive

  • Michael Halpern

    Also I was thinking about SEP or solar sail tugs if you are patient enough