McGregor Test Stand Engine Test

Behind the Scenes with SpaceX Production, Testing, and Launches

Today marks the one month countdown to the SpaceX launch for the next NASA Commercial Resupply Services Mission (CRS-2). Pinehead is going get you prepped for launch by covering SpaceX from the outside, in. We are going to start with the big picture and drill down to various rocket/spacecraft components and launch preparations as we get closer to T-minus zero for CRS-2, scheduled for March 1st.

SpaceX is set up in several locations around the United States including a small Pacific island. Headquarters is located in Hawthorne, California. Their rocket testing facility is in McGregor, Texas. SpaceX has launch complexes at Cape Canaveral, Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc, California, and Omelek Island about 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii. They are also considering a launch site Brownsville, Texas located at the southern tip of the state. (more…)

Merlin Engine Firing

Under the Hood with the SpaceX Merlin Engine

Most concepts at SpaceX are designed from the ground up and the parts are manufactured on site at SpaceX. The Merlin engine, which launches the Falcon rocket, is no exception.

Photo of Tom Mueller next to Merlin engines
Tom Mueller, posing with the Merlin rocket engines at SpaceX’s Hawthorne headquarters. Photo by Roger Gilbertson. Photo courtesy Tom Mueller via kcet.org

The rockstar of SpaceX may be Elon Musk, but the lead man behind the fire power is Tom Mueller. He is the Vice President of Propulsion Development and founding employee at SpaceX. Musk sought Mueller out in 2001 when Musk decided to build his own rockets instead of buying some from the Russians. Musk caught wind of a rocket engine Mueller built in his garage and “apparently had a religious experience” once he saw it. If you didn’t know, Elon Musk used $100 million of his Paypal money to start SpaceX. That money was used to build the Merlin engine Mueller had designed. The Merlin engine is the first new American booster engine in ten years and only the second in the last 25 years. (more…)

Falcon Heavy artist rendering

SpaceX Plans Heavy Lift Vehicle for 2013

For SpaceX, 2012 was the year of the Dragon. In 2013 the Falcon Heavy, SpaceX’s heavy lift vehicle, is set to steal some of the spotlight away from the Dragon.

The Falcon Heavy is currently in development and builds off of the Falcon 9 first stage and the Merlin 1D engine, an upgrade of the engine currently flying on the Falcon 9. What makes the Falcon 9 design so reliable is the ability to handle several engine failures without having to abort or experience a R.U.D. (SpaceX lingo for an explosion, a.k.a. Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly). Along with the engine reliability the Falcon Heavy will be the first rocket in history to feature propellant cross-feed from the side boosters. Since the rocket does not need full throttle to maintain acceleration as it travels into the atmosphere, the center core reduces throttle as the rocket ascends with the side cores still at full throttle. This allows for the core stage to be close to full of propellant when the side boosters separate, essentially leaving a fully fueled Falcon 9 ready for liftoff many miles above the earth. (more…)