SpaceX has conducted the first full duration test fire of a more efficient and more powerful engine to power future Falcon-9 and Falcon-9 Heavy flights.
The company says the Merlin 1D rocket engine has now demonstrated 185s burn duration and multiple restarts at the company's MacGregor, Texas test facility.
Compared with the Merlin 1C that has powered SpaceX launch vehicles to date, the Merlin 1D generates 650 kN (147,000lb thrust) and a thrust-to-weight ratio of over 150:1, which SpaceX says makes it the most efficient booster engine ever built.
The company plans to build 400 engines per year at its Los Angeles, California plant.
"The new engine is designed for improved manufacturability by using higher efficiency processes, increased robotic construction and reduced parts count," says SpaceX.
Nine of the 1Ds are scheduled to power the sixth Falcon 9 flight in 2013. According to SpaceX's manifest, the sixth launch will be the second flight for NASA's commercial orbital transportation services (COTS) contract to resupply the International Space Station (ISS).
The Falcon-9 Heavy, a much larger version of the Falcon-9, will use 27 such engines. The company is developing a significantly more powerful Merlin 2, the specifications of which have not yet been finalised, to power a newer and much larger rocket project.
SpaceX launched the third Falcon 9 flight on 22 May, launching the company's Dragon capsule on a test mission to the ISS, becoming the first company to dock with the station.