Published: Thu, November 09, 2017
Research | By Raquel Erickson

SpaceX Merlin rocket engine explodes during test

SpaceX Merlin rocket engine explodes during test

A Merlin rocket engine exploded Sunday at SpaceX's test facilities in Central Texas.

The current generation of engines, known as Block IV, have not been impacted by the failure and will continue to fly payloads for SpaceX customers, meaning the incident will not affect this or next year's launches.

The explosion, first reported by the Washington Post, happened during a "qualification test" of Merlin engine, which is supposed to be used in Falcon 9 rockets in late 2018.

The company said Tuesday in response to questions that it is "now conducting a thorough and fully transparent investigation of the root cause" of the explosion.

2017 has been a banner year for SpaceX with 16 missions having been sent aloft, so far, from either KSC's LC-39A or SpaceX's launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California - Space Launch Complex 4E (East).

When Tesla began building what would become its Merlin engine, it settled on a relatively simple design it could bring to market quickly and scale upwards over time.

According to Ars Technica, the explosion occurred before the engine was lit during a process called a LOX drop where liquid oxygen is added to the engine to determine if there are leaks. Alternately, of course, it could have been a one-off issue caused by a defect in this specific engine.

The company, which operates multiple test stands in McGregor, expects repairs at the damaged stand to last up to four weeks.

The company is scheduled to launch one of its Falcon 9 rockets next week for the United States government.

Next Wednesday's mission from KSC, codenamed "Zuma", is expected to launch during a two-hour window that opens at 8 p.m.

The uncertainty comes from whether SpaceX's Falcon Heavy will fly this year, the complexity of the launch vehicle, and the fact that it has 27 engines in its first stage alone has made its official launch date hard to pin down.

In June 2015, a Falcon 9 broke apart less than 3 minutes after liftoff, scuttling an uncrewed cargo run to the International Space Station by SpaceX's Dragon capsule.

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