New version of the Merlin engine for Falcon 9 exploded during testing
Two SpaceX Merlin 1D engines at the SpaceX Rocket Development and Test Facility test site in MacGregor (TX). Photo: SpaceX
On Saturday, November 4, 2017, a new engine for the Falcon 9 missiles exploded at the SpaceX Rocket Development and Test Facility in MacGregor (Texas). Causes of anomalies are being investigated.
“No one was hurt during the incident and all security protocols were followed, ” a SpaceX representative said in a comment to SpaceFlight Insider . - We are now conducting a thorough and transparent investigation of the root cause. SpaceX is committed to the current manifesto, and we do not expect it to have any impact on our launch rhythm. ”
Until the end of 2017, the company has scheduled three more official launch. SpaceX has already overtaken Russia and all global companies / agencies by the number of launches this year. Most likely, the company will not lose leadership for the year.
The explosion occurred during testing of the Merlin Block 5 engine, which will be used in future modifications of the Falcon 9 missiles. They are now flying on the Merlin Block 4 engines (nine engines of the first degree), so there is no reason to postpone the scheduled launches.
Nine Merlin engines at the first stage of the Falcon 9. Photo: Michael Seeley / We Report Space An
informed source in a comment Space.com saidthat the incident occurred during the “LOX drop” test, when the engine is filled with liquid oxygen fuel and checked for leaks. During this test, the engine does not start, however, at some point during the test, liquid oxygen was ignited. There was an explosion. Recovery of the test compartment where an abnormal situation occurred (one of two test compartments) will take from two to four weeks.
The investigation of the incident, according to The Washington Times, will take several weeks. At this time, the tests of Block 5 engines are suspended, and the tests of Block 4 will resume in the coming days.
SpaceX already has experience in investigating such incidents. In September 2016, the Falcon 9 rocket exploded on the launch pad during a typical preflight test with a communications satellite Amos-6. The company managed to find out the root cause: it turned out to be a structural defect in one of the helium cans inside the tank with liquid oxygen in the second stage.
As toldSpaceX Chief Engineer and Rocket Engine Designer Thomas Muller, answering questions from readers of sub-division / r / spacex, the development of the Merlin 1D engine began about five years ago. This is a unique engine of its kind, because SpaceX does not buy the main components for its assembly from suppliers, but produces them on its own, including pre-valves, main valves, a nozzle head with efficiency of 96-97%, a combustion chamber - and these are the main parts engine All these parts are designed by SpaceX engineers and are manufactured by the company, so it comes out much cheaper and faster. In developing Merlin, the key was cost reduction.
This year the company has already conducted 16 launches - all successful. Of these, 13 missions included the return and landing of the first stage of the Falcon 9. Ilon Musk said that this significantly reduces the cost of launches. In the future version of Falcon 9 Block 5, the rocket will receive reusable thermal protection that does not burn in the atmosphere (this will further reduce the cost of preparing for re-launch), and improved landing pillars that will fold inward (to speed up service after landing), so it’s enough to put rocket horizontally folded support - and it can be transported. Thus, the rocket service will take 24 hours and will require the work of a few staff. Thomas Müller says that if there is a special need, SpaceX could already launch one rocket a day.
Until the end of this year, SpaceX has planned not only three standard launches of the Falcon 9, but also the first launch of the super-heavy Falcon Heavy rocket, which has 27 engines only in the first stage. Ilon Mask warned that this rocket could also explode, and expressed the hope that this would happen far enough from the launch pad . In this case, the launch can be considered successful, he said.
The nearest launch is scheduled for November 16: this is Zuma's secret mission with an unknown cargo from the military contractor Northrop Grumman on a government order. On December 4, the launch of a cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station CRS-13 is scheduled, and on December 22 - the launch of the Iridium satellite into orbit.