January 31, 2008 Space Exploration Technologies Corp, or SpaceX, has conducted the first multi-engine firing of its Falcon 9 medium to heavy lift rocket at its Texas Test Facility outside McGregor. The Falcon 9 is the launch vehicle for the SpaceX Dragon, which will facilitate the delivery of cargo and up to seven people to and from the International Space Station.
The Falcon 9 engines operated at full power, generating over 180,000 pounds of force (equivalent to a Boeing 777 at full power) and consuming 700 lbs per second of fuel and liquid oxygen during the run. The two engine test was the largest to date on the BFTS (Big Falcon Test Stand). The next run, scheduled for February, will use three engines operating for a full first stage mission duty cycle of three minutes. When operating in flight, the first stage will accelerate the 180 foot long Falcon 9 vehicle to more than ten times the speed of sound in three minutes. Following stage separation, the Falcon 9 second stage continues accelerating the payload to a final change in velocity that may be in excess of Mach 30 for missions beyond low Earth orbit.
The test series will continue with five, seven and finally the full compliment of nine engines. With all engines firing, the Falcon 9 can generate over one million pounds of thrust in vacuum or four times the maximum thrust of a 747 aircraft. SpaceX has designed its Merlin engine for rapid mounting and change-out. A new engine can be installed in a period of hours, a feature that will provide significant operational efficiency and responsiveness on the launch pad.
The Merlin 1C next generation liquid fueled rocket booster engine is among the highest performing gas generator cycle kerosene engines ever built, exceeding the Boeing Delta II main engine, the Lockheed Atlas II main engine, and on par with the Saturn V F-1 engine. It is the first new American booster engine in a decade and only the second American booster engine since the Space Shuttle Main Engine was developed thirty years ago.
SpaceX is assisted by NASA’s COTS program, which finances demonstrations from companies that provide spacecraft capable of docking with the International Space Station. NASA believes it will be necessary to seek corporate partnerships under the COTS program until at least 2015.