SpaceX tested the Falcon 9 a few days ago, November 22nd, on their giant test stand in McGregor Texas. I have reported previously as SpaceX increased the numbers of engines by a few at a time each test and am happy to report they have now succeeded in firing the nine Merlin engines in a sequence and for a period of time identical to that of a real mission.
Nine engines fired for 160 seconds; two were then shutdown and the remaining seven burned until the 178 second mark. The two engine shutdowns are done in the later stages of flight when much of the fuel mass has been burned off and the ‘G forces’ climb. This spare ‘oomph’ means a Falcon 9 can lose two engines and still reach the required orbit.
The stage developed 855,000 pounds of thrust at sea level. This will increase to about 1 million in vacuum. The Falcon 9 is not a little rocket.
A first flight attempt is expected from their Cape Canaveral pad during the first half of the coming year. I am not betting on a successful first flight, although it is a possibility. While the Merlin is now a fairly well understood engine, there are complex dynamic interactions between engines when you fly with more than one. I am sure Elon’s team has modeled and tested to the best of their ability, but simulations and ground tests are still ‘theory’ relative to real live flight.
I have no doubts whatever that the SpaceX team will have Falcon 9 flying for hire within the next two years.
You can watch the test here