One of SpaceX's rocket engines exploded on Nov. 4 at a test facility in Texas. The aerospace company is now investigating what caused the engine to explode.
The Explosion: What Happened?
The explosion took place during a "qualification test" of SpaceX's next-generation Merlin rocket engine.
SpaceX said that it was trying to fill liquid oxygen into the engine in order to check whether there were any leaks or not — a process known as a "LOX Drop". Although, it did not even start the engine yet the liquid began to burst into flames. The company said that it is unsure whether the engine itself exploded or not.
SpaceX planned to use the new engine on its Falcon 9 rocket that was scheduled to be launched next year. The company said that luckily nobody was hurt and added that the recent incident will not have an effect on the expected launch date.
The Merlin Engine
SpaceX developed the Merlin rocket engines for its Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 launch vehicles. The engine uses liquid oxygen (LOX) and rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1) as rocket propellants.
The latest engine that exploded was a "Block 5" Merlin engine which is expected to come with a much higher thrust and landing capabilities. SpaceX currently uses the "Block 4" Merlin engine for the Falcon 9 rocket which is a transitional version of the "Block 3" and Block 5 engine.
As of now, SpaceX will suspend all tests on only the Block 5 engine at the test facility in Texas as the company tries to investigate the primary cause of the explosion. It also plans to restore the test bay where the Merlin engine exploded which may take around two to four weeks to fix, said the company.
SpaceX Launched 16 Successful Missions In 2017
SpaceX has been very busy this year, having launched 16 successful missions already which is the most it has ever launched in a year. Recently, the company successfully delivered the Koreasat-5A satellite into space where it will float above the Earth for fifteen years.
The Falcon Heavy Rocket
Last July, Elon Musk announced SpaceX's next big rocket, the Falcon Heavy, which is scheduled to launch this year. The Falcon Heavy is a larger version of the Falcon 9 and could be one of the most powerful rockets in history. The rocket was meant to launch back in 2014 and 2016, but the date was pushed back ever since.