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Space Businesses Technology

SpaceX Rocket Engine Explodes During Test (space.com) 115

According to The Washington Post, a SpaceX rocket engine exploded Sunday (Nov. 5) at the company's test facility in McGregor, Texas. The explosion reportedly occurred during a "qualification test" of a Merlin engine, the type that powers SpaceX's workhorse Falcon 9 rocket. Space.com reports: SpaceX has suspended engine testing while it investigates what caused the incident, which didn't injure anyone, the Post added. In a statement provided to the Post, SpaceX representatives said they didn't expect the explosion to affect the company's launch schedule. That schedule has been pretty packed this year. SpaceX has already launched 16 missions, all of them successful, in 2017 -- twice as many as its previous high in a calendar year. And all but three of these missions also involved landings of the Falcon 9 first stage, for eventual refurbishment and reuse.
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SpaceX Rocket Engine Explodes During Test

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  • by Strider- ( 39683 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2017 @07:52PM (#55516783)

    The incident in question did not occur during an engine firing. Rather they were performing a "LOX drop" test which basically involves pumping LOX through the engine and checking for leaks. Something went wrong in this process, causing the damage. Until the investigation is completed, there's no way to know whether it was an issue with the engine, the test rig, or the setup. It might be that a tech just dind't tighten something adequately, or a filler hose leaked or whatever. SpaceX won't know until they complete their investigation, and we may never know.

    To quote Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame "LOX makes anything flammable. LOX makes something flammable into a high explosive." So even if they just had a sufficiently large leak, and the LOX leaked onto/into asphalt or similar, all it takes is a spark to cause that asphalt to detonate like a bunch of dynamite.

    • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) <bruce@perens.com> on Wednesday November 08, 2017 @08:26PM (#55516949) Homepage Journal

      Also, this was a block 5 engine. There are newly designed un-flown parts in that engine, ironically because NASA asked for higher reliability for human missions. For example no more turbopump impeller cracks, which SpaceX had characterized and was tolerating on cargo missions using the older impellers. For something to go wrong during a test of new designs is to be expected.

      • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) <bruce@perens.com> on Wednesday November 08, 2017 @08:37PM (#55517013) Homepage Journal

        We should also remember that SpaceX had an engine fail destructively on the CRS-1 mission. The design of the rocket contains such a failure in one engine without damaging the others. The rocket had an engine-out capability that can cope with one or more failures. It compensated and completed the mission, achieving all expected parameters on the remaining 8 first-stage engines.

        • That just means that F9 has been over engineered for every mission where an engine didn't fail! /s

          • It's not over engineering because A) it matters where the engine explodes. T+1s is way worse than T+50. I'm not even sure if it can safely clear the pad on 8 engines. B) There are performance costs. In the car of CRS1 NASA required spacex to abort a secondary payload and on a reusable GTO launch it probably wouldn't have enough fuel to land which would turn a reusable launch into an expendable launch without the commiserate price increase passed on to the customer.

    • by DiEx-15 ( 959602 )
      Mandatory post [youtube.com]
  • Well.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fluffernutter ( 1411889 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2017 @08:01PM (#55516843)
    I'm no Musk fan, but what's why you test?
  • Obviously failed the test.
  • by Deadstick ( 535032 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2017 @08:13PM (#55516887)

    That's a 1650-cubic inch V-12.

    • That's a 1650-cubic inch V-12.

      Somebody please mod this up, this is the first thing I thought of when I heard the name of the engine.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      I wonder if Rolls-Royce (now BMW) still owns the trademark for the Merlin name?

      • by Vulch ( 221502 )

        The aero engines Rolls Royce are a separate company to the car makers these days, and BMW just own the car bit. They've got various agreements between the two for use of the badges and names so it could be either, both or neither have IP for the Merlin.

      • Thanks. Fun fact: The Merlin is named for a bird, not a sorceror. Rolls-Royce named a long series of aero engines after birds, beginning with the Eagle in 1915. They switched to rivers for their gas turbine engines, like the long-running Dart series -- but that's also the name of a bird!

        For that matter, Arthur's sorceror was named for the bird too: Druids named their children after living things.

  • Most famous British engine in the war. Bit rude of SpaceX to reuse the name.

  • by 4wdloop ( 1031398 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2017 @09:03PM (#55517101)

    the nature of test is to find faults
    if everything was perfect by design the test people would be flipping burgers or work as perfect-design engineers

  • it is an EXTERNAL combustion engine is it not?

  • Considering they LOX drop and test fire each engine, eventually with this many engines you were bound to have one with a flaw. All I can say is, good job.. better on a test stand than on a Falcon 9.
  • The engine, not so much.

  • Ignition! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pz ( 113803 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2017 @09:50PM (#55517277) Journal

    There is a marvelous history of the development of rocket fuel called, "Ignition!", written by John D. Clark, one of the field's insiders who has an ascerbic wit. The foreword was written by Isaac Asimov, which contains the following fantastic quote:

    Now it is clear that anyone working with rocket fuels is outstandingly mad. I don't mean garden-variety crazy or a mere raving lunatic. I mean a record-shattering exponent of far-out insanity.

    There are, after all, some chemicals that explode shatteringly, some that flame ravenously, some that corrode hellishly, some that poison sneakily, and some that stink stenchily. As far as I know, though, only liquid rocket fuels have all these delightful properties combined into one delectable whole.

    Explosions are par for the course. Rocket science is hard.

  • They were testing an engine, and this particular test failed... That's the whole point of testing, try new things and see if they work.

  • If you aren't blowing things up now and then, you aren't on the frontier of exploration. You cannot know where the line designating the frontier is unless you occasionally step over it.

  • At least they have an idea now that there's a problem somewhere that needs fixing, and it's not hidden for an actual launch.

    Good test. Try and break it.

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