NASA, Mars 2020, Nuclear power, Nuclear thermal rocket, Nuclear propulsion X’s Engine Architect and Employee #1: Tom Mueller
, He had recently discovered that launching some plants on retired Soviet ICBM’s costs far more than he thought it should and Wanted to just build a private rocket company instead.. Of course this seems reasonable., So you joined the company as a founding member and take up the role of VP of propulsion.. 18 years later, the company flies the United States only active crewed launch vehicle. And your workhorse rocket booster lands on drone ships bobbing out at sea regularly.. This 36 billion upstart is also developing a fleet of the largest interplanetary spaceships in human history.. The goal is to manufacture them at a rate of two a week with no plans to stop until there are thousands of them zipping across the solar system. And they’re all propelled by liquid rocket engines that you designed.. That person, in our scenario, was Tom, Mueller the lead propulsion engineer in SpaceX that led to the development of the now legendary Kestrel, Merlin, Draco and Raptor engines.. This video is sponsored by patrion.comINeedMoreSpace., Hey everyone, TJ here. And today ON. I Need More Space. We’Re gon na be talking about one of the founding fathers of SpaceX Tom Mueller.. Tom grew up in St. Maries, Idaho, a logging town with a population of 2500 people.. He flew Estes rockets during his childhood and even use them for his high school science. Fair projects.. Eventually, he upgraded the propulsion hardware to his father’s oxy acetylene welding torch and modified it to be able to inject water into the flow.
. He found that traded some performance for a higher overall thrust.. This also made the system water cooled to prevent it from burning through the chamber.. These projects propelled him through the local and regional rounds of science fairs, and he eventually made it to the finals which were in Anaheim. Landing in LA and seeing this massive city for the first time was an experience that stuck with him. Mueller knew that he wanted To become an engineer, instead of becoming a logger like the rest of his family., He came from a lower middle class. Family and couldn’t really afford to go to a big engineering school.. Instead, he picked the University of Idaho, which was closer and more affordable and spent four years working as a logger to pay for his classes. In interviews. He describes the situation as the story of quotOctober Skyquot. If you switched the mining out for logging, great movie by the way. Mueller attributes a lot of his engineering skills to the hands on experience, he got helping his dad work on his log truck using his tools, welders and other things. And later being able to use The lathe on the milling machine in the university’s machine shop. It gave him the intuition of what would work and what wouldn’t. And that’s one of the reasons he feels that’s why he became good at developing rocket engines., While his father wanted him to take up. One of the offers he had gotten from companies like Hewlett Packard Tom was really clear that he wanted to go to California to get a rocket, so he did.
. After moving to California, he began working in satellite design and later shifted the developing liquid rocket engines.. He spent 15 years working at the aerospace company TRW Incorporated where he worked as lead engineer during the development of the TR 106.. This 2900 kilonewton hydrolocks engine was one of the most powerful well engines at the time.. However, Tom felt his ideas around engine designs were lost at such a large, diverse company.. To satisfy his urge to innovate, he began to build his own amateur rocket engines and began to launch them into Mojave with other members of the reaction. Research society., The RRS, was an amateur rocketry group consisting of engineers from the aerospace industry that existed since the 1940s.. In 2001. He designed the largest amateur rocket engine at the time and later moved its development to his friend’s rented workshop in 2002.. It was this 80 pound, 58 kilonewton engine that caught Elon’s attention when he visited the warehouse.. He had just made 180 the million dollars from eBay’s 1.5 billion purchase of PayPal and was looking for employees to found a space company called Space Exploration. Technologies. Musk looked at the engine being mounted on to an airframe and asked Mueller. Could you build something bigger Over the next few years, Mueller led the development of the Kestrel and Merlin 1A engines for the Falcon 1 launch vehicle.. The Kestrel was a small pressure fed engine which powered the Falcon 1s upper stage.. It was built around the Merlin architecture with a similar pintle injector, but without the turbo pumps.
, A Kestrel two variant was also planned which improve the ISP and reduce mass.. However, it was abandoned with the birth of the Falcon 9 version, one which instead used the Merlin 1C on the upper stage.. The Merlin was some of Mueller’s, most important work at SpaceX and a massive factor in their success.. The Merlin was a gas generator cycle based kerosene locks engine with a simple and elegant design that would enable low cost production.. The single pintle injector was a major focus of this architecture and enabled them to simplify the propellant mixing process.. The development process of the Merlin took place at an incredible rate.. The gas generator was one of the first components that were tested at XCOR’s test site in Mojave.. At this point, the SpaceX propulsion team just consisted of a few people. When the test ran successfully. Mueller said all right: let’s run it again.. The XCOR team seems confused because they hadn’t been planning to run more than one test. A day. Mueller turned to XCORs Jeff Greason, looked at his watch and said well, it’s only 11 in the morning.. What else are we gon na? Do Let’s run some more., So they went out, got more propellant and began running multiple tests, a day., This culture of rapid testing and iteration has been part of SpaceX since its earliest days.. The first test of the Merlin occurred in 2003 at SpaceX’s engine test facility in McGregor Texas.. The challenge was to make sure that it was able to run a full duration burn, meaning that it could propel the Falcon 1’s first stage through its entire 162nd launch.
Out of Earth’s atmosphere. Before the ablative cooling layer got consumed. As Mueller and his team watched from the bunker the engine ignited. During the 62nd run, the exhaust began to melt the metal in the engines. Throat. Running it any longer would have ended in it. Blowing up. Over the next 15 months, the SpaceX propulsion team focused on eliminating the bugs. Mueller’s team, made the engine run, cooler and strengthened the seals.. When the time to test came again, they targeted a full duration burn as they watch the video feed from the testing. On the screens, within the bunker, the engine roared and came to life., The vibrations could be felt everywhere. The engine ran perfectly and when the fuel ran dry, the engine had burned for exactly 162.2 seconds. Meeting the target of the full duration burn.. The room erupted in cheers. quotCall, Elonquot, Mueller, yelled quottell him. We just ran a full duration.quot. The Merlin 1A was a significant achievement becoming the first new liquid rocket engine to fly from the US in 40 years.. However, it only flew twice. On the first two launches of the Falcon 1, and both of these launches were unsuccessful.. The Falcon 1 flight three use the upgraded Merlin 1B., Although they nearly made it to space a burst of added performance that had gone undetected. During the sea level. Tests made the first stage bump into the second stage after separation, which led to the loss of the mission.
. However, the system had been proven and SpaceX was confident that they could get it right on the next launch, attempt. And indeed on the fourth flight. The Falcon 1 powered by the Merlin 1C engine became the first privately developed liquid fuel rocket to reach orbit in September 2008.. After the fifth flight of the Falcon 1, the small sat launch vehicle was retired., SpaceX’s focused shifted into the Falcon 9 and Dragon.. Falcon 9 was powered by cluster of nine Merlin 1C engines. It reached orbit for the first time in June 2010., Over the next few years, the Merlin engine rapidly evolved as Mueller and his team ran it through a rigorous testing, optimization regime.. Today, the Merlin 1D engine has the highest thrust to weight ratio of any liquid rocket engine in existence by a massive margin.. Thanks to these upgrades, SpaceX was able to upgrade the panel capacity of the Falcon 9 from 9000 kilograms on the version one to more than 22800 kilograms on the latest block five variant, today. That’s over 150 boost in performance. Falcon 9 also became the first orbital rocket To be able to land its booster propulsively with the first landing taking place in December 2015., You can actually go today and see that booster in Hawthorne California, at SpaceX headquarters.. So now they can return to the launch site and land on the coast or on a drone ship at sea.. This was a massive feat of engineering. The ability to throttle the Merlin deeply and precisely played no small part.
Building an engine that could withstand reuse with minimal turbo pump degradation was another massive challenge that his team managed to overcome.. The Falcon 9 block five boosters that fly today are expected to be reused for up to 10 flights before requiring major refurbishment.. The Merlin 1D also served as the main propulsion for the Falcon Heavy. Falcon Heavy uses, two Falcon 9 side boosters in a reinforced Falcon 9. As a center core. To form a 27 engine behemoth that could lift 64 tons to low earth, orbit. Mueller’s engine architecture was able to scale it from a small sat launcher to the most powerful operational rocket. The US had. Like the Falcon 9. It is also capable of reusable flights with side boosters that return to land simultaneously near the launch site.. During their early years, Mueller’s team also developed the Draco engines for Dragon’s orbital, maneuvering system. And later the additively manufactured super Draco engines that power its launch support system. Today., The Dragon later became the first private spacecraft to dock with the international space station. And the crew Dragon pushed its legacy further by becoming the first privately developed crew vessel to fly astronauts. In 2014, Mueller transitioned engine development, to the SpaceX propulsion, engineering, team. And in 2016, he moved to a part time propulsion, CTO role. Mueller continued to lead the development of the Raptor engine, an architecture that he had been thinking about for over a decade.. The Raptor is a methane oxygen engine intended to be used as the main propulsion for SpaceX’s star ship.
. It uses the full flow stage combustion cycle, which is pretty much the holy grail of liquid rocket engines.. This cycle allows it to operate at the very limit of chemical propulsion with a combustion efficiency of over 99.. It also broke the record for the highest combustion chamber. Pressure ever achieved by rocket engine. Well at least buy one that wasn’t in the middle of exploding. When it reached an incredible 330 bar during testing. Such an engine has never flown to space before and SpaceX wants to be able to manufacture these engines at a rate of one per day, at a cost of less than 1 million per engine., Oh in each Raptor is capable of being reused. A thousand times. Mueller. Also mentioned that SpaceX had talked to NASA centers about developing nuclear thermal propulsion, noting that it is very difficult for a private company to fund such a program by themselves, but was interested to see if NASA would be able to develop the testing. In November 2020. Mueller retired, from his role at SpaceX, where he was serving as a part time advisor for SpaceX with Musk and the propulsion team. They were developing the SpaceX engine lineup, including the Raptor. Mueller, now spends his time indulging in his love for fast high powered machines. By going track racing in some of his Porsche’s, a collection that he seems to be very proud, about. Tom Mueller’s work at SpaceX has been a part of their endeavor.
. The engine architectures he and his team developed have been one of the main drivers behind SpaceX’s, launch capabilities, cost effectiveness and their ability to innovate. On top of it.. He helped push rocket propulsion to unprecedented levels of performance, which enabled SpaceX to the things that were considered to be near impossible, like vertical landings and re usability.. At this point I’d like to thank the sponsor of this video., You my patrons at Patreon.comINeedMoreSpace As a patron. You get some great perks like access to my discord. Early access to special projects like we’re, sending I don’t know like 15000 names to the moon. Next year., Oh and you get to see videos early and also help me work on scripts if you’d like.. So if you like, some of those things, want some early access and to contribute to some videos like this, please consider becoming a patron at Patreon.comINeedMoreSpace.. So after learning all about Tom Mueller, what do you think about his impact on SpaceX and space exploration in general? I know Tom seemed to retire at an early age, but you have to remember he spent nearly like the last 20 years grinding with Elon and SpaceX to get SpaceX where they are.. So I think he’s earned some good rest.. Now he is pursuing his other passions, but I would like to think that he is not done in the rocket industry., So I will be watching him. Closely. All right, I’ll end the video.
Thanks for watching.. I hope you would consider becoming a subscriber or even becoming a patron., And I hope you have a great day.. Thanks for watching. I’ll see you guys later bye.