Tom Mueller

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Tom Mueller
EducationMaster's Degree in Mechanical Engineering
Alma materLoyola Marymount University
University of Idaho
OccupationRocket Engineer
Chief Technology Officer of Propulsion

Tom Mueller is an American rocket engineer and rocket engine designer. He is a founding employee of SpaceX, a space transport services company headquartered in Hawthorne, California,[1] where he is CTO of propulsion.[2]

He is best known for his engineering work on the TR-106, the Dragon spacecraft propulsion, and Merlin Rocket Engines. He is considered one of the world's leading spacecraft propulsion experts and holds several United States patents for propulsion technology.[3][4]

He is currently leading the development of a new rocket engine, twice as powerful as the Merlin rocket engine, the methalox-propellant Raptor that will power SpaceX's next-generation BFR launch vehicle.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Mueller was born in St. Maries, Idaho.[5] His father was a logger and wanted Mueller to be one as well.[6] Mueller compares his story to that of Homer Hickam, growing up in a hard-working family and going off to be an engineer instead of following in his father's footsteps.[5] As a kid, he would build and fly Estes model rockets. He continued to experiment with rockets, even building one out of his father's oxy-acetylene welder and discovering adding water would produce more thrust.[5]

Mueller eventually became a logger, working four summers to pay his way through school. He attended the University of Idaho where he earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering.[6] He moved to California upon graduating, turning down job offers in Idaho and Oregon.[5] He attended a job fair upon his arrival in California and began working in satellite design and moved on to developing liquid rocket engines.[6] Mueller went on to attend Loyola Marymount University where he obtained his master's degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1992 from the Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering.[7]


The Dragon spacecraft being launched on a Falcon 9 v1.0 rocket powered by Merlin engines engineered by Tom Mueller.

For 15 years, Mueller worked for TRW Inc., a conglomerate corporation involved in aerospace, automotive, credit reporting, and electronics. He managed the propulsion and combustion products department where he was responsible for liquid rocket engine development.[1] He worked as a lead engineer during the development of the TR-106, a 650,000 lbf (2,900 kN) thrust hydrogen engine that was one of the most powerful engines ever at the time it was constructed. During his time at TRW, Mueller felt that his ideas were being lost in a diverse corporation and as a hobby he began to build his own engines. He would attach them to airframes and launch them in the Mojave Desert along with other members of the Reaction Research Society.

In late 2001, Mueller began developing a liquid-fueled rocket engine in his garage and later moved his project to a friend's warehouse in 2002.[1] His design was the largest amateur liquid-fuel rocket engine, weighing 80 lb (36 kg) and producing 13,000 lbf (58 kN) of thrust.[1] His work caught the attention of Elon Musk, PayPal co-founder and CEO of Tesla Motors, and in 2002 Mueller joined Musk as a founding employee of SpaceX.[3]

Mueller is currently the CTO of Propulsion Development at SpaceX,[2][8] responsible for all propulsion development, including the Dragon spacecraft propulsion systems and Merlin rocket engine family that powers the Falcon 9 launch vehicle to orbit.[1] The Merlin is the highest-performing hydrocarbon engine made in the United States and the first hydrocarbon booster engine made in the United States in 40 years.[1] Mueller developed the Merlin 1A and Kestrel engines for the Falcon 1, the first liquid fueled orbital rocket launched by a private company as well as leading the team that developed the Merlin 1C, Merlin 1D and MVac engines for the Falcon 9, the first to launch into orbit and recover a spacecraft.[9] The Dragon was the first spacecraft launched by a private company to dock at the International Space Station, with its technology being used on projects for manned missions to Mars.[9]

Outside his work at SpaceX, he was a commencement speaker for Loyola graduate students in 2013, the year after SpaceX became the first private company to send a cargo payload to the International Space Station.[7] He was also the feature of an appropriately titled article called "Rocket Man," published by LMU Magazine in 2011.[10] In 2014, Mueller was nominated for the Wyld Award, presented by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) for outstanding achievement in the development or application of rocket propulsion systems.[11]

Mueller is currently working on development of the Raptor rocket engine family that will power the Interplanetary Transport System on its journey to Mars and beyond.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Belfiore, Michael (1 September 2009). "Behind the Scenes With the World's Most Ambitious Rocket Makers". Popular Mechanics. Retrieved 18 February 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d Boyle, Alan (24 May 2018). "SpaceX propulsion guru Tom Mueller looks ahead to Raptor rocket engines for Mars". GeekWire. Retrieved 2018-06-27.
  3. ^ a b Seedhouse, Erik (2013). SpaceX: Making Commercial Spaceflight a Reality. Springer Praxis Books. ISBN 9781461455141.
  4. ^ Lord, M.G. (1 October 2007). "Rocket Man". L.A. Mag. Archived from the original on 21 February 2014. Retrieved 18 February 2014.
  5. ^ a b c d Rosenberg, Jeremy (3 May 2012). "Tom Mueller: From Idaho Logger To Space Explorer". KCET. Retrieved 18 February 2014.
  6. ^ a b c Cairo, Amanda (March 2013). "Launch Pad For Success". Here We Have Idaho. Retrieved 18 February 2014.
  7. ^ a b Jordan, Karen (3 May 2013). "Loyola Marymount University Announces Commencement Speakers". Marinadelrey Patch. Retrieved 18 February 2014.
  8. ^ Lemley, Brad (September 2005). "Shooting The Moon". Discover Magazine. Retrieved 18 February 2014.
  9. ^ a b Butler, Phil (12 February 2014). "From Earth Entrepreneurs to the Moon and Beyond: Leading the Way to Privatized Space". The Epoch Times. Retrieved 18 February 2014.
  10. ^ McInnis, Doug (11 November 2011). "Rocket Man". LMU Magazine. Retrieved 18 February 2014.
  11. ^ "Wyld Propulsion Award Recipients". American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Retrieved 19 February 2014.