SpaceX's Merlin 1D rocket engine has achieved an impressive track record in a very short amount of time. The engine was designed from the outset to be crew-rated - a critical aspect considering what the engines' next big task is. Photo Credit: SpaceX
Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX ) Falcon 9 rocket V1.1 gets part of its name from the fact that the booster uses nine Merlin 1D engines in its first stage. With the aerospace firm planning on conducting a pad abort test of the crew rated version of their Dragon spacecraft (V2) on May 6, SpaceFlight Insider and its partner, the Florida Institute of Technology provide you with this review of these engines – as well as the missions that they were built for.
SpaceX’s Director of Mission Assurance, Hans Koenigsmann, told SpaceFlight Insider that the Merlin family of engines was designed from the outset to be used on crewed missions.
“Actually, the 1D and the Falcon 9 was always designed to be crew-rated; to me, this always seemed a little optimistic (laughs), but, as I said earlier, the goal of SpaceX was always human space flight and we never had any doubt on this. If you will recall, the first Dragon capsule was a cargo ship – that had a window. That was our way of saying that we are ready for astronauts, ” Koenigsmann said.
These nine engines are arranged in a pattern known as the Octaweb configuration, where eight of the engines surround a single center engine in a circular formation. The center engine runs at lower power in order to create a balanced launch sequence and to distribute the thermal properties to avoid creating major hot spots. In addition, this improvement from its former three-by-three square formation adds reliability to the Falcon 9 vehicle; two engines could shut down and the vehicle could still fulfill its intended mission.
The Merlin 1D engine, developed in Hawthorne, California, has undergone rigorous testing prior to being used on actual flights. This engine went through a 28-test qualification program at SpaceX’s rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas, in order to be used for the Falcon 9 launches.
“The Merlin 1D successfully performed every test throughout this extremely rigorous qualification program, ” said Elon Musk via a release issued by the company.
The Merlin 1D utilizes a high-pressure liquid oxygen and kerosene propellant as fuel. The dual-impeller, single-shaft turbopump displaces both the fuel and the hydraulic fluid necessary for control of the thrust vectoring.
In addition to the nine engines in the first stage, the Falcon 9 v1.1 uses a single Merlin Vacuum (1D) engine variant in its second stage. Most recently, SpaceX has been using their Merlin 1D powered Falcon 9 v1.1 launch vehicle to frequently deliver payloads and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) packaged in the Dragon spacecraft, the cargo resupply missions (CRS 1-6 so far).
This engine has been tasked with carrying out a wide-array of missions, which include the Apr. 27, 2015, flight of a Falcon 9 carrying the TurkmenistanSat telecommunications satellite.
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