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Nine engines are GO!

SpaceX has just test fired nine engines at full thrust in the full Falcon 9 configuration, a test I was not expecting to see until this fall at the earliest. According to their press release:

Major milestone achieved towards demonstrating U.S. transport to the International Space Station following retirement of the Space Shuttle

McGregor TX – August 1, 2008 – Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) conducted the first nine engine firing of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle at its Texas Test Facility outside McGregor on July 31st. A second firing on August 1st completed a major NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) milestone almost two months early.

At full power, the nine engines consumed 3,200 lbs of fuel and liquid oxygen per second, and generated almost 850,000 pounds of force – four times the maximum thrust of a 747 aircraft. This marks the first firing of a Falcon 9 first stage with its full complement of nine Merlin 1C engines.Once a near term Merlin 1C fuel pump upgrade is complete, the sea level thrust will increase to 950,000 lbf, making Falcon 9 the most powerful single core vehicle in the United States.

“This was the most difficult milestone in development of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle and it also constitutes a significant achievement in US space vehicle development. Not since the final flight of the Saturn 1B rocket in 1975, has a rocket had the ability to lose any engine or motor and still successfully complete its mission,” said Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of SpaceX. “Much like a commercial airliner, our multi-engine design has the potential to provide significantly higher reliability than single engine

“We made a major advancement from the previous five engine test by adding four new Merlin engines at once,” said Tom Mueller, Vice President of Propulsion for SpaceX. “All phases of integration went smoothly and we were elated to see all nine engines working perfectly in concert.”

I will admit to being caught totally flat footed by this announcement. Given that the Falcon 1 launch at Kwajalein is due any time now I felt certain the company’s full attention would be focused there.

I guess Elon and his crew are better multi-taskers than I gave them credit for.

9 engines firing
Falcon 9 first stage on test stand: nine Merlin 1C engines at full thrust.
Photo: courtesy SpaceX

11 comments to Nine engines are GO!

  • Ian B

    Looks like the Will Hutton/Tracy Corrigan mystery has disappeared down the memory hole then. I feel quite sad. It was rather intriguing, in its way.

    Or maybe I dreamed it all…

  • Dale Amon

    I haven’t a clue what you are talking about. Did Will Hutton write something about commercial launch vehicles??? Seems a bit of of a stretch…

  • wm


    You’re right, this is outstanding news. I found some video of the test at Spaceref.com

    Just for the record, the timestamp on the video says July 30th, not the 31st (which may or may not mean anything.) However, the statement at SpaceRef said that there was another firing today, August 1st.

    I don’t know which firing is shown at Spaceref, but even if the first test was on July 30th, a forty-eight hour turnaround of a nine-engine platform is still bloody amazing.

    Folks may still dismiss Sir Branson’s venture with Rutan, but the list of accomplishments SpaceX has just brought off has to threaten cost-plus Big Aerospace where it lives.

  • Ian B

    Nothing to do with this thread, but anyone fancying a good laugh, check out little Polly Toynbee in the Grauniad this morning. It’s completely unhinged.

  • Dale Amon

    Yes, there were two tests. I believe (but do not guarantee) the video (which I was not able to play last night and just got sorted this morning) was of the August 1 test.

    All indications right now are for a Falcon 1 launch from Kwaj between 9pm and midnight Eastern today. This has not been officially confirmed by SpaceX. I’ll probably post something when they do go public with a launch time.

  • Dale Amon

    Just some humorous thoughts I just had:

    Q: What is another name for Ares-1?
    A: Dino-chow, for a fat and happy T-Rex.

    If you are in the industry you’ll get it.

  • Ian B

    Do you think NASA will ever make it back to the Moon, or will events overtake them?

  • Dale Amon

    I have good friends in corner offices there… and I love to annoy them by asking if they have made their room reservations with Bob Bigelow yet…

    Does that answer your question? 🙂

  • Dale Amon

    Now to be more serious. There are a lot of good people at NASA, from top to bottom of the organization. The thing is, they work for a government body and although they have the same goals as those of us in the private sector, their hands are tied by the rules of the game. They have no choice but to play the hand they have been dealt. They have to get a bunch of lawyers to agree that what they are doing is important… and for the most part important means ‘jobs and money flowing into the pockets of people who are then going to vote me back in again’. They have to avoid risk because those same technically ignorant folk like nothing better than something they can declare a crisis or a scandal… in front of a whole bunch of microphones and cameras, so as to show How Important They Are to the people who are going to vote them back in again.

    That is the game. I would like to say we should just ignore it completely, but we cannot. If the Dinosaurs (ie the big aero and defense contractors) get hungry, their keepers (the delegation from their area/State) will try whatever they need to feed them… or to remove the competition.

    I do not like it, I would like to change it, but that is the hand *WE* have been dealt and we just do not have the option of pretending otherwise.

    But come the Revolution… ::-)

  • lucklucky

    Ian B you didnt dreamed. It gives a rather bad taste to delete threads in a site like Samizdata.

  • Disgruntled


    It seems to me that the people in the manned space community who are trying to bring about things like space colonies by working through NASA are pushing on a rope that has been cut completely through in at least two places.

    The “pushing on a rope” comes from the fact that acquiring the technology and understanding necessary to build things like cheap reusable launch vehicles has a large element of public good in it. Producing a public good is difficult because you either have to get huge numbers of other people to educate themselves and cooperate (the voters ultimately setting NASA policy), or else you have to produce it as a side effect of some private good (Alt-Space selling joyrides).

    This rope has been cut once by the fact that NASA is too big, and has become a political football, as Freeman Dyson suggested in Infinite In All Directions. The politics of making sure that large amounts of money are flowing into favored congressional districts in ways that politicians can take credit for have become vastly more important than technical considerations.

    But there is a second guillotine cut having to do with national prestige. There is a paradox, which Mike Griffin alluded to obliquely in his speech, “Space Exploration: Real Reasons and Acceptable Reasons.” If you admit that you are motivated by prestige, it makes you look insecure, which lowers your prestige. But because the people who care about prestige vastly outnumber the people who take space colonies seriously, it is impossible for most of us to admit even to ourselves what our objectives are, and it is completely impossible to carry on an honest and intelligent conversation about our purposes with the average space enthusiast. The conversations always end up with people advocating expendable launch vehicles and “flags and footprints” missions in the name of developing cheap access to space and sustainable space development. John Carter McKnight referred to these advocates as “The Association Living in Camelot Fairyland.” As “Chair Force Engineer” put it, “… NASA subverts the capitalist system in the name of national pride.”