SpaceX Rocket Engine Suffers Failure During Test (Updated)

SpaceX Merlin 1D Engines on the Test Stand
Two SpaceX Merlin 1D engines sit on a test stand at the company's rocket-development facility in McGregor, Texas. (Image credit: SpaceX)

An explosion occurred during a test of a SpaceX Merlin engine on Saturday (Nov. 4) at the company's test facility in McGregor, Texas, according to a statement obtained by 

"No one was injured and all safety protocols were followed during the time of this incident," according to the statement. "We are now conducting a thorough and fully transparent investigation of the root cause."

The explosion occurred during a test of a "Block 5" Merlin engine, which will be used in a future generation of the company's Falcon 9 rockets, a source told Falcon 9 rockets that are currently in operation utilize the "Block 4" Merlin engine, so the incident will not require the company to halt any of its scheduled launches. 

"SpaceX is committed to our current manifest and we do not expect this to have any impact on our launch cadence," the statement said.

The incident occurred during a "LOX drop" test, in which an engine is filled with liquid oxygen fuel and tested for leaks, according to the source. The engine did not fire during this test. The company does not know if the engine itself exploded, the source said. The test bay where the explosion took place may take two to four weeks to repair.

SpaceX anticipates that a full investigation into the incident will take several weeks. The explosion was first reported by The Washington Post.

SpaceX's launch schedule has been pretty packed this year. SpaceX has already launched 16 missions, all of them successful, in 2017 — twice as many as its previous high in a calendar year. And all but three of these missions also involved landings of the Falcon 9 first stage, for eventual refurbishment and reuse. (During the other three launches, no landing was attempted.)

The reuse of rockets and spacecraft will slash the cost of spaceflight, leading to greater exploration opportunities, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has said.

SpaceX has experience investigating accidents. In September 2016, a Falcon 9 exploded on the launch pad during a routine preflight test, destroying the rocket and its payload, the Amos-6 communications satellite. The company traced the problem to a design flaw in one of the helium canisters inside the rocket's second-stage liquid-oxygen tank.

In June 2015, a Falcon 9 broke apart less than 3 minutes after liftoff, scuttling an uncrewed cargo run to the International Space Station by SpaceX's Dragon capsule. That accident was caused by the failure of a single steel strut inside the second stage, the company determined.

Nobody was hurt in either of these incidents.

SpaceX has several more Falcon 9 missions on tap for 2017, and the company also aims to launch its huge new Falcon Heavy booster for the first time before the end of the year.

Correction: This story was updated at 6:48 p.m. EST to correct the date of the SpaceX Merlin rocket engine mishap. It occurred Saturday, Nov. 4, not Sunday, Nov. 5, according to a SpaceX statement. 

Correction: This article previously stated that the presence of liquid oxygen caused the anomaly; this has not been confirmed by SpaceX and has been removed from the article. senior writer Calla Cofield contributed to this report. Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.