A crewed mission to the International Space Station that was set to depart from Kennedy Space Center on Halloween has been pushed back at least several weeks as NASA and SpaceX investigate an issue with the company’s Merlin rocket engine. But the problem in question wasn’t actually discovered on the booster that’s slated to carry the four new crew members up to the orbiting outpost. This story starts back on October 2nd, when the computer aboard a Falcon 9 set to carry a next-generation GPS III satellite into orbit for the US Space Force shut down the engines with just two seconds to go before liftoff.
The fact that SpaceX and NASA have decided to push back the launch of a different Falcon 9 is a clear indication that the issue isn’t limited to just one specific booster, and must be a problem with the design or construction of the Merlin engine itself. While both entities have been relatively tight lipped about the current situation, a Tweet from CEO Elon Musk made just hours after the GPS III abort hinted the problem was with the engine’s gas generator:
As we’ve discussed previously, the Merlin is what’s known as an “open cycle” rocket engine. In this classical design, which dates back to the German V-2 of WWII, the exhaust from what’s essentially a smaller and less efficient rocket engine is used to spin a turbine and generate the power required to pump the propellants into the main combustion chamber. Higher than expected pressure in the gas generator could lead to a catastrophic failure of the turbine it drives, so it’s no surprise that the Falcon 9’s onboard systems determined an abort was in order.
Grounding an entire fleet of rockets because a potentially serious fault has been discovered in one of them is a rational precaution, and has been done many times before. Engineers need time to investigate the issue and determine if changes must be made on the rest of the vehicles before they can safely return to flight. But that’s where things get interesting in this case.
SpaceX hasn’t grounded their entire fleet of Falcon 9 rockets. In fact, the company has flown several of them since the October 2nd launch abort. So why are only some of these boosters stuck in their hangers, while others are continuing to fly their scheduled missions?
Continue reading “Engine Trouble Delays SpaceX’s Return To The ISS”
[Mister M] was quite excited to mess around with the new high-quality Raspberry Pi camera and build a project around it. Unfortunately, lockdown forced him to rummage through old tech on hand rather than hunting down a fresh eye-catching enclosure out in the wild. We spent many hours playing with one of these Merlin toys whenever six AA batteries could be spared to feed the matrix of hungry 1970s LEDs, so we would argue that [Mister M] should explore his personal stores more often.
Before we forget — it’s cool; this one was already broken. The Merlin Pi camera’s wizardry works on two levels — [Mister M] can take still pictures and record video through the GUI he built for the touchscreen, or go retro and use the little push buttons nestled in the Merlin control panel. [Mister M] worked a Dropbox uploader into the GUI, so he doesn’t have to worry about filling up the SD card with backyard bird movies in the middle of filming them.
[Mister M] says he accidentally warped the Merlin’s battery cover while trying to soak away the sticker and had to use a piece of acrylic. Although it’s unfortunate, we think it may have been for the better given the huge hole necessitated by the camera lens. Check out the build video after the break.
If you hadn’t heard about this beefy new camera module until now, our own [Jenny List] brought it into focus a couple months back and more recently had a go at hacking with it herself.
Continue reading “Merlin Pi Camera Is A Photographic Wizard”
It has been remarked before in more than one Hackaday post, that here are many communities like our own that exist in isolation and contain within them an astonishing level of hardware and engineering ability. We simply don’t see all the work done by the more engineering-driven and less accessory-driven end of the car modification scene, for example, because by and large we do not move in the same circles as them.
One such community in which projects displaying incredible levels of skill are the norm is the model making world. We may all have glued together a plastic kit of a Spitfire or a Mustang in our youth, but at the opposite end of the dial when it comes to models you will find craftsmanship that goes well beyond that you’d find in many high-end machine shops.
A project that demonstrates this in spades is [mayhugh1]’s quarter-scale model of a vintage Rolls-Royce Merlin V12 piston aero engine. This was the power plant that you would have found in many iconic Allied aircraft of the WW2 era, including the real-life Spitfires and all but the earliest of those Mustangs. And what makes the quarter-scale Merlin just that little bit more special, is that it runs. Just add fuel.
The build took place over a few years and many pages of a forum thread, and includes multiple blow-by-blow accounts, photos, and videos. It started with a set of commercial castings for the engine block, but their finishing and the manufacture of all other engine parts is done in the shop. In the final page or so we see the video we’ve placed below the break, of the finished engine in a test frame being run up on the bench, with a somewhat frightening unguarded airscrew attached to its front and waiting to decapitate an unwary cameraman. Sit down with a cup of your favourite beverage, and read the build from start to finish. We don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Continue reading “If You’re Going To Make A Model Engine, You Might As Well Make It A Merlin”
If you want to see something awesome this afternoon, watch SpaceX’s live broadcast of an engine test today at 3:00 pm EDT/12:00 pm PDT/7:00 pm GMT. You’ll see nine Merlin rocket engines power up to full thrust during a test for the upcoming launch of a Dragon space capsule to the ISS.
This is just a static test – hopefully the nine Merlin engines won’t go anywhere. To get an idea of the power behind these engines this is a test of just Merlin engine being fired at the SpaceX open house in Texas a year or so ago. Today, nine engines will be fired at once.
Check out the videos after the break to see just how awesome the Falcon 9 is going to be.
Continue reading “Watch A Rocket Engine Test Live This Afternoon”