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SpaceX rocket engine explodes during test, probe launched

10 Noviembre 2017

The active Falcon 9 rockets now rely on Block 4 Merlin engines.

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).

SpaceX said Wednesday that one of its rocket engines exploded on November 4 during a test at its Texas facility.

The Merlin engine used in the company's Falcon 9 rockets was undergoing a "qualification test" before being used for one of the rockets.

Sunday's explosion, which was first reported by The Washington Post, occurred before the engine was lit, a source told Ars.

In terms of Sunday's accident, SpaceX has encountered anomalies before. It's not clear why the engine ignited, but testing on the Block 5 Merlin 1D will apparently be suspended until the issue is fixed.

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.

No one was hurt in the incident, SpaceX said. It happened during a procedure known as LOX drop, in which liquid oxygen is added to the engine to determine if there are any leaks. "At SpaceX I don't think this incident will have any impact on the pace of launches".

If repairs on the first bay go as planned, the company should be able to continue "acceptance testing" for its Block 4 Merlin engines. The Merlin test stand has two bays, and while one bay may require as much as four weeks to fix, the other bay should be ready for use within a couple of days.

The Block 5 variant is expected to improve the Falcon 9's overall performance, in particular making it simpler and faster to re-use.

"This isn't going to have any impact on our launches this year or next year".

However, SpaceX is pausing development of its block-five Merlin engines not only to investigate the blast, but also make room to keep block-four Merlin engines qualified for flight. Both bays of the Merlin stand were damaged.

The last major explosion SpaceX suffered was in September 2016, when a pressure vessel failed and caused a Falcon 9 rocket to blow up during a launch-pad test, destroying a satellite payload on top.

Musk has said the company also plans to launch its Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time this year.

SpaceX rocket engine explodes during test, probe launched