Falcon 9 Experienced Engine Anomaly During Last Flight

SpaceX officials have admitted that an engine anomaly occurred on its most recent Falcon 9 launch:

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Corp. acknowledged that its Falcon 9 rocket experienced an engine anomaly during its December launch of the company’s reusable Dragon space capsule.

“I’d call it an oxidizer-rich shutdown,” former NASA astronaut Ken Bowersox, SpaceX’s vice president of astronaut safety and mission assurance, told Space News in a Sept. 9 interview. “So because of that, when you get that mixture change happening, the temperatures can go up higher than you want inside the gas generator.”

Bowersox added that “those temperatures could have damaged the turbines in the turbopump.” That presents an obstacle for SpaceX, which eventually intends to reuse the nine Merlin engines that power the Falcon 9.

It does not, however, present an obstacle for cargo delivery missions to the international space station, SpaceX said.

An oxygen-rich shutdown is “not a catastrophic event for the Merlin engine,” Bowersox said. “We’ve been through this on the test stand and we know what it looks like for our engines, so we know that this was not a risk to the mission.”

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