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Next-gen SpaceX rocket engine goes up in flames

Merlin rocket engine
A Merlin rocket engine undergoes testing at SpaceX’s facility in McGregor, Texas. (SpaceX Photo)

SpaceX says its next-generation Merlin rocket engine experienced a fiery anomaly during preparations for testing at its facility in McGregor, Texas, but the flare-up isn’t expected to have an effect on the company’s ambitious launch schedule.

No injuries were reported in the wake of the Nov. 4 explosion, which occurred while engineers were running liquid oxygen through an engine that’s designed to be used on the next iteration of SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket, known as Block 5.

Engineers use the procedure, which is called a LOX drop, to look for leaks in the engine’s supply lines. It serves as part of the setup for qualification tests of the Block 5 engine, which is destined to be more powerful than the current Block 4 version of the Falcon 9.

It’s not yet fully clear why the explosion occurred during the LOX drop. In a statement emailed to GeekWire today, SpaceX said “all safety protocols were followed during the time of this incident.”

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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