New SpaceX rocket engine fired up

Posted by Kate Taylor

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has successfully test fired its new engine, SuperDraco.

The SuperDraco is an upgraded version of the Draco engines currently used by the company’s Dragon spacecraft to maneuver in orbit and during reentry.

As part of the Dragon's launch escape system, eight SuperDraco engines will be built into the side walls of the spacecraft, producing up to 120,000 pounds of axial thrust for use in an emergency.

"SuperDraco engines represent the best of cutting edge technology," says said Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and chief technology officer.

"These engines will power a revolutionary launch escape system that will make Dragon the safest spacecraft in history and enable it to land propulsively on Earth or another planet with pinpoint accuracy."

The escape system was partly funded by NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which gave SpaceX $75 million in April last year.

And in tests conducted at the company’s Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas, the company says SuperDraco sustained full duration and full thrust firing, as well as a series of deep throttling demonstrations.

SpaceX’s launch escape system is inherently safer than existing versions, says the company, as it isn't jettisoned, allowing astronauts to escape from danger at any point during the launch - not just in the first few minutes. Installing eight SuperDracos gives redundancy.

SuperDracos can also be restarted multiple times, if necessary, and can deep throttle, for precise control and greater power. The engines can also be used repeatedly - helping SpaceX in its long-term goal of making spacecraft more like airplanes.