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SpaceX rocket engine explodes during test at Texas facility


"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. Two of the facility's test bays were damaged, but nobody was harmed according to SpaceX.

SpaceX is scheduled to launch its Falcon 9 rocket, which is powered by nine of the Merlin engines on its first stage, at least three more times this year. The mishap occurred during a "qualification test" of a Merlin engine meant to be used during a Falcon 9 launch in late 2018. SpaceX has already launched 16 missions, all of them successful, in 2017 - twice as many as its previous high in a calendar year.

Yet that fix job will take only "two or three days", according to the source, and block-four testing will soon resume.

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Saturday's explosion occurred before the engine was lit, during a procedure known as LOX drop, when liquid oxygen is added to the engine to see if any leaks occur.

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. But he has warned that the Heavy is a complex rocket, which uses 27 first-stage engines, and that it too could explode. Until recently all launches SpaceX successfully carried out.

SpaceX was testing an experimental new version of its Merlin rocket engine at the time of the blast, a company source who is familiar with the matter told Business Insider. In connection with the incident the incident was temporarily suspended, all other tests of the rocket engine to ascertain the cause of the explosion.

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All Falcon 9 rockets launched today use a design called block-four - a kind of "model year" for the rocket system. Both bays of the Merlin stand were damaged.

For now, SpaceX will suspend the testing of this engine, while investigating what caused the explosion. Experts said that this engine was never used in flight.

SpaceX has a lot riding on its Block 5 variant of the rocket, which the company's founder, Elon Musk, has said will improve the rocket's performance and optimize its reusability and capability for rapid turnaround.

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