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I've watched this (excellent) panel discussion titled 'Our Future in Space'. Bill Nye says at 22:48 that SpaceX got their engine design from work done by NASA, which they developed into a working production model. What design was that and what documents did they use? And can I get those documents?

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  • $\begingroup$ The pintle engine was tested in the early 1990s (1990-1995) at NASA/Lewis (now Glenn). Tests were conducted to optimize performance and test combustion stability. The engines were designed and fabricated by TRW. Engines tested were 16.5K LOX/RP-1, 40K LOX/LH2, 13K LOX/RP-1. Other pintle engines tested were the 40K LOX/RP-1 tested at EMRTC (1999) and the 650K LOX/LH2 tested at NASA SSC (199-2001). When SpaceX decided to use TRW/Northrop-Grumman pintle design lawsuits started between Northrop-Grumman (bought TRW) and SpaceX. $\endgroup$ – Robert T Apr 2 '18 at 18:10
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The Merlin uses a pintle injector, a design first used in the Lunar Module Descent Engine, developed from original work at Caltech and JPL. Its design was publicized as U.S. Patent 3,699,772. It's a design (PDF) that was used a lot by patentor TRW.

A TRW employee, Tom Mueller, got bored with his day job and started working in his spare time on engines for model rockets. Around 2001, he was working on an engine capable of 13,000 lb of thrust (the biggest model rocket engine in the world). Elon Musk hired him and put him to work building "something bigger". Mueller became one of the founding employees of SpaceX and was Vice President of Propulsion Development as of 2013.

Musk sought Mueller out in 2001 when Musk decided to build his own rockets instead of buying some from the Russians. Musk caught wind of a rocket engine Mueller built in his garage and “apparently had a religious experience” once he saw it. If you didn’t know, Elon Musk used $100 million of his Paypal money to start SpaceX. That money was used to build the Merlin engine Mueller had designed.

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    $\begingroup$ wow, this is full of great links. The linuxacademy article has a link to an excellent short video explanation of the Merlin engine, which apparently will disappear soon because the service is being discontinued! No, no. I'm going to have to do something about that... $\endgroup$ – kim holder Feb 21 '15 at 20:56
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    $\begingroup$ FASTRAC would be worth mentioning in regards to Merlin engines too. It might as well be what Bill Nye refers to in that video, since there's mention of working production model. ;) $\endgroup$ – TildalWave Mar 3 '15 at 17:07
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    $\begingroup$ There is disagreement over whether FASTRAC is related to Merlin. $\endgroup$ – Hobbes Mar 4 '15 at 9:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Hobbes Wow, the things that go on in the belly of Wikipedia. My my. Juicier than the article itself. $\endgroup$ – kim holder Mar 5 '15 at 4:49

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