On Sunday (5 November), one of SpaceX's next-gen rocket engines exploded during a test at the company's facility in McGregor, Texas. But the fact that SpaceX is going to reexamine its engine design, specifically, could mean that the firm wanted to further increase available thrust with the Block 5 engine, or that the explosion is related to other changes to the base design.
Though this isn't SpaceX's first setback, it appears to be of less significance than the September 2016 Falcon 9 explosion on a Cape Canaveral launch pad and the 2015 incident in which a Dragon spacecraft destined for the International Space Station was lost just after liftoff. Falcon 9 has previously delivered cargo to the International Space Station as well as sensitive U.S. government satellites into orbit. No one was on board and no was injured. 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. No one was hurt in the incident.
"We are now conducting a thorough and fully transparent investigation of the root cause", SpaceX spokesperson John Taylor said in a statement to The Verge.
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The company has already flown 16 times successfully this year, tying the most number of its launches by its major competitor, the United Launch Alliance. It is also deploying highly sensitive satellites for the Pentagon.
The explosion, first reported by the Washington Post, happened during a "qualification test" of Merlin engine, which is supposed to be used in Falcon 9 rockets in late 2018. Its next launch, a national security mission, is scheduled for next week from the Kennedy Space Center.
The uncertainty comes from whether SpaceX's Falcon Heavy will fly this year, the complexity of the launch vehicle, and the fact that it has 27 engines in its first stage alone has made its official launch date hard to pin down.
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The reuse of rockets and spacecraft will slash the cost of spaceflight, leading to greater exploration opportunities, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has said.
"I hope it makes it far enough away from the pad that it does not cause pad damage".
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