Elon Musk Explains Why SpaceX Prefers Smaller Rocket Engines

Elon Musk Explains Why SpaceX Prefers Smaller Rocket Engines

The successful launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket is a huge moment for the company and human space exploration as a whole. For the first time, we have a mostly reusable rocket with enough power to deliver large payloads to other planets. One peculiarity of the Falcon Heavy is its complement of 27 engines, which seems like it would be unnecessarily complicated. However, CEO Elon Musk says it’s actually a benefit.

The Falcon Heavy has the most engines of any rocket ever to reach orbit — it’s not even close. The highly reliable Russian Soyuz has five engines, as did the American Saturn V vehicle (in the first stage). The ESA’s Ariane 5 has just three engines, if you count the two solid boosters. The previous record was nine engines, jointly held by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and the Rocket Lab Electron. The only rocket in the same league as the Falcon Heavy is the 30-engine Soviet N-1 moon rocket, which never successfully reached space.

Musk says that past issues with high numbers of engines were due to slower, less powerful avionics. With modern technology, it’s possible to control all 27 Merlin engines on the Falcon Heavy, which is basically three Falcon 9 rockets strapped together. The rocket can vary thrust in real time to keep the vehicle on course, even if there’s variance among the individual engines.

Elon Musk Explains Why SpaceX Prefers Smaller Rocket Engines

He describes the advantage to this design in computer terms. In the past, mainframe systems would serve many clients, but everyone was out of luck if that single mainframe went down. Today, the services we use online are powered by many smaller computers, so a given service remains operational even if some individual computers fail. It’s the same with the Falcon Heavy. The rocket can compensate for a few engine failures — it can even reach orbit with as many as six dead engines.

SpaceX plans to continue using large numbers of small engines in its rockets. The company’s next generation Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) will sport 31 engines. These will be more powerful “Raptor” engines that run on liquid oxygen and methane. Each engine will have 380,000 pounds of thrust at sea level, compared with just 190,000 pounds with the Merlin. This vehicle could begin replacing the Falcon 9 in the early 2020s. SpaceX hopes to make this rocket its base for all missions from low-Earth orbit satellite deployments to interplanetary transport. And if a few engines don’t work, it’s no big deal. You’ll still make it to Mars.

Continue reading

Intel’s Desktop TDPs No Longer Useful to Predict CPU Power Consumption
Intel’s Desktop TDPs No Longer Useful to Predict CPU Power Consumption

Intel's higher-end desktop CPU TDPs no longer communicate anything useful about the CPUs power consumption under load.

New Intel Rocket Lake Details: Backwards Compatible, Xe Graphics, Cypress Cove
New Intel Rocket Lake Details: Backwards Compatible, Xe Graphics, Cypress Cove

Intel has released a bit more information about Rocket Lake and its 10nm CPU that's been back-ported to 14nm.

Intel’s Raja Koduri to Present at Samsung Foundry’s Upcoming Conference
Intel’s Raja Koduri to Present at Samsung Foundry’s Upcoming Conference

Intel's Raja Koduri will speak at a Samsung foundry event this week — and that's not something that would happen if Intel didn't have something to say.

Review: DJI’s New Mini 2 May Be the Perfect Travel Drone
Review: DJI’s New Mini 2 May Be the Perfect Travel Drone

If you love traveling with your drone but hate lugging around a lot of gear, DJI's Mini 2 may be the perfect solution.