SpaceX successfully launched the first privately owned rocket (Falcon 9) and space capsule (Dragon) to the International Space Station in May. The engine that propelled them there is called the Merlin, built by the company based on known technology and NASA heritage.
Several generations of Merlin engines have been made, and the newest, the 1D, was recently test fired in May at the SpaceX facility in Texas. This video of it is pretty darn cool. Turn the volume up!
The full firing was a bit over three minutes long. The 1D performed well by all accounts, and will be used for the first time next year on an upgraded version of the Falcon 9 rocket. The 1D has the highest thrust-to-weight ratio of any engine of its kind ever used, meaning it produces a lot of bang for its weight.
There will be two versions of this engine: one to be used on the first stage of the Falcon 9, and designed for use in air, and another for the second stage, to be used in a vacuum. The exhaust from an engine behaves differently in air (where the pressure of surrounding air changes the way the exhaust expands) versus in a vacuum, so different designs can be used to optimize the thrust. These will be used on the upgraded Falcon 9 as well as the in-production Falcon Heavy rocket.
I'm even more interested in the proposed Merlin 2, which SpaceX claims will have 1.7 - 1.9 million pounds of thrust -- more than the Saturn V F5 engines did! These will be used on a future generation Falcon heavy-lift rocket.
Image credit: SpaceX
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