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Mon, Sep 29, 2008

SpaceX Tests Falcon 9 Engines, Startles Town

Entrepreneur Hopes To Develop Alternative To Soyuz

Normally a peaceful rural setting, the central Texas town of McGregor shook, rattled and rolled last Thursday night, as Space Exploration Technologies -- better known as SpaceX -- simultaneously fired nine Merlin 1C rocket engines in the McGregor Business Park, reports the Temple Daily Telegram.

"Sometimes there's a rumbling sound and other times it's all of a sudden one big boom and it shakes the walls and floors," said Ellain Laing of Jack's Smokehouse in McGregor, but added that they're getting used to it.

SpaceX, founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk, has a $70,000 annual lease with city on a 300-acre facility in the McGregor Business Park. Formerly used by Beal Aerospace, the site already featured a 135 foot concrete testing tripod, perfect for testing SpaceX rocket engines.

As ANN reported, the company's fourth Falcon I rocket performed flawlessly in a 10-minute ride to the heavens on Sunday. At T-plus 10 minutes, Falcon I successfully released its dummy payload... marking a wholly successful mission for the company, which had suffered through the failures of its first three launches.

Musk has his sights set on a loftier goal than placing satellites in orbit, though. Hoping to fill the gap in the US space program between the retirement of the Shuttle program and the launch of Ares-Orion, SpaceX plans to use the Merlin 1C engines to power its Falcon 9, a rocket designed to transport astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station.

Thursday night's firing was the third such test firing of the nine Merlin 1C rocket engines together. SpaceX Business Development Manager Lauren Dreyer explained, "Everything went beautifully. It was another successful Falcon 9 development accomplishment. We got all the data we needed."

Expected next is a longer 30-second performance. For an encore, a nearly three-minute test is planned, simulating an actual launch.

FMI: www.spacex.com

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