Tests were conducted at the SpaceX Texas Test Facility near Waco, TX, on a Merlin 1C configured for powering the first stage of a Falcon 1 rocket. After completing development testing in November of 2007, the qualification program began to verify the final design features on an actual production engine, clearing the way for full-scale manufacturing.
“This was the final development milestone required for the next Falcon 1 flight,” said Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of SpaceX. “In the coming weeks we’ll begin qualifying Merlin for the higher thrust and performance levels required by our Falcon 9 rocket, keeping us on track for delivering the first Falcon 9 vehicle to Cape Canaveral by year end.”
The Merlin 1C is an improved version of the Merlin 1A ablatively cooled engine, which lofted the Falcon 1 on its first flight in March 2006 and second flight in March 2007. The regeneratively cooled Merlin 1C uses rocket propellant grade kerosene (RP-1), a refined form of jet fuel, to first cool the combustion chamber and nozzle before being combined with the liquid oxygen to create thrust. This cooling allows for higher performance without significantly increasing engine mass.
The Merlin engine is the first new American booster engine in ten years and only the second in over a quarter century. The prior two American engines were the RS-68 developed in the late nineties by Pratt & Whitney’s RocketDyne division, used in the Boeing Delta IV launch vehicle, and the Space Shuttle Main Engine developed in the late seventies, also by RocketDyne. With a production rate of one engine per week by late 2008, SpaceX will produce more rocket booster engines than the rest of US production combined and more than any country except Russia.--------------------------------
SpaceX is developing a family of launch vehicles intended to reduce the cost and increase the reliability of both manned and unmanned space transportation ultimately by a factor of ten. With its Falcon line of launch vehicles, powered by Merlin engines, SpaceX is able to offer light, medium and heavy lift capabilities to deliver spacecraft into any inclination and altitude, from low Earth orbit to geosynchronous orbit to planetary missions.
As winner of the NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services competition, SpaceX will conduct three flights of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft for NASA. This will culminate in Dragon berthing with the International Space Station and returning safely to Earth. When the Shuttle retires in 2010, Falcon 9 / Dragon will have the opportunity to replace the Shuttle in servicing the Space Station.