Engine for upgraded Falcon 9 rocket explodes on take a look at stand – Spaceflight Now


File picture of a Merlin engine on a take a look at stand in McGregor, Texas. Credit: SpaceX

A Merlin engine designed for the model of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket that can carry astronauts into orbit for NASA failed throughout testing Saturday in Texas, however the firm mentioned its upcoming launches won’t be affected by the mishap.

The take a look at engine was set for a firing at SpaceX’s rocket growth facility in McGregor, Texas, but it surely caught hearth throughout a leak examine earlier than ignition. The engine was a modified model of the Merlin powerplant that powers each phases of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.

“SpaceX experienced an anomaly during a qualification test set up of a Merlin engine at our rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas,” mentioned John Taylor, an organization spokesperson, in an announcement launched to Spaceflight Now on Wednesday. “No one was injured and all security protocols have been following through the time of this incident.

“We are now conducting a thorough and fully transparent investigation of the root cause,” Taylor mentioned. “SpaceX is committed to our current manifest and we do not expect this to have any impact on our launch cadence.”

Nine Merlin engines are mounted to the bottom of the Falcon 9’s first stage, and a single Merlin engine powers the Falcon 9’s second stage.

SpaceX’s subsequent Falcon 9 mission is about for launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida subsequent Wednesday, Nov. 15, with a secretive payload named Zuma for the U.S. authorities.

Officials mentioned the engine misplaced Saturday was not constructed to fly on a Falcon 9 rocket. It was a floor growth engine for SpaceX’s “Block 5” Falcon 9 booster, which is predicted to debut subsequent 12 months.

The take a look at bay wherein the Merlin engine was housed sustained injury within the explosion, and it’ll take two-to-four weeks to restore the ability, officers mentioned. An adjoining bay has superficial injury, and could possibly be again operational in two or three days.

SpaceX is at the moment constructing and launching an iteration of the Falcon 9 referred to as “Block 4.” Test-firings of Merlin engines for near-term Falcon 9 launches will proceed within the different take a look at bay.

An organization spokesperson mentioned it has notified the U.S. Air Force, NASA and the Federal Aviation and Administration of the take a look at failure.

File picture of 9 Merlin 1D engines on the primary stage of a recovered Falcon 9 rocket booster. Credit: SpaceX

The Block 5 engines will produce extra energy and contains a redesign to make the engines simpler to reuse on a number of flights. The Block 5 model of the Falcon 9 may even incorporate modifications to fulfill NASA security necessities for launches with astronauts heading for the International Space Station.

“Block 5 is the last big spin on Falcon 9, and it’s largely driven by the upgrade that we needed to make for the commercial crew program, as well as national security space launch requirements,” mentioned Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief working officer, throughout a question-and-answer session in February.

NASA awarded contracts to SpaceX and Boeing in 2014 to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule will take off on Falcon 9 rockets from the Kennedy Space Center, and the corporate plans an orbital take a look at flight with two astronauts as quickly as August 2018.

SpaceX engineers additionally added a everlasting repair to resolve a priority with turbine wheel cracks contained in the Merlin engine’s turbopump.

“There is a performance upgrade here as well, largely to get more margin for (those) very demanding customers,” Shotwell mentioned in February. “There’s some manufacturing improvements. We’ve addressed the turbine wheel issue (on Block 5). There are probably 100 or so changes on that vehicle.”

SpaceX has not mentioned when the Block 5 model of the Falcon 9 will make its first launch. Officials earlier this 12 months advised the Block 5 might debut by the top of 2017, however it’s now anticipated no earlier than February.

In an interview on “The Space Show” on-line radio program in June, Shotwell mentioned the Block 5 can also be vital for SpaceX’s ambition to reuse Falcon 9 first stage boosters extra usually, and at much less expense. Boosters based mostly on earlier Falcon 9 designs will be reused two or thrice, however a Block 5 first stage could possibly be reused a dozen occasions, she mentioned.

Components on the Block 5 rocket, reminiscent of valves, shall be requalified and redesigned at extra excessive working situations and for longer durations, she mentioned. Block 5 rockets would require much less refurbishment between landings and re-flights, because of extra resilient thermal safety and different upgrades.

SpaceX has launched Falcon 9 rockets 16 occasions this 12 months — all efficiently — after launch campaigns in 2015 and 2016 have been reduce quick by rocket explosions.

At least three extra Falcon 9 launches are deliberate earlier than the top of the 12 months. After subsequent week’s launch of Zuma from pad 39A at KSC, one other Falcon 9 rocket is about to launch no sooner than Dec. four from close by pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station with a Dragon provide ship heading to the International Space Station.

Iridium’s fourth batch of 10 next-generation business voice and information relay satellites is about for liftoff no sooner than Dec. 22 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

SpaceX says it might launch its first Falcon Heavy rocket by the top of the 12 months. The upcoming reactivation of pad 40 at Cape Canaveral will clear the best way for staff to wrap up preparations for the heavy-lift launcher at pad 39A in time to start fueling and hold-down firing exams in December. The launch might comply with quickly after these exams, baduming they go in keeping with plan.


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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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