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