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Powerful engine blazes path for space launch system advanced propulsion

28 January 2013

Developing a future heavy lift rocket, NASA has resurrected the world's most powerful rocket engine - the F-1 that powered the Saturn V rocket - with a test fire of it's gas generator.

A gas generator from an F-1 engine is test fired at the Marshall Space Flight Center (image: NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given)

NASA engineers ran the gas generator at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The test is part of a series that will push the gas generator to limits beyond prior Apollo-era tests. Modern instruments on the test stand measured performance and combustion properties to allow engineers a starting point for creating a new, more affordable, advanced propulsion system. 

"Our young engineers are getting their hands dirty by working with one of NASA's most famous engines," said Tom Williams, Director of the Propulsion Systems Department in Marshall Engineering Directorate. "These tests are only the beginning. As SLS [space launch system] research activities progress, these young NASA engineers will continue work with our industry partners to test and evaluate the benefits of using a powerful propulsion system fueled by liquid oxygen and rocket grade kerosene, a propellant we haven't tested with in some time." 

The gas generator tested at Marshall is a key F-1 rocket component that burns liquid oxygen and kerosene and is the part of the engine responsible for supplying power to drive the giant turbopump. The gas generator is often one of the first pieces designed on a new engine because it is a key part for determining the engine's size, which is a factor in the engine's power and ability to lift heavy payloads and send them to space. 

NASA's Space Launch System will provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit. The initial 77 tonne SLS configuration will use two five-segment solid rocket boosters similar to the boosters that helped power the space shuttle to orbit. The evolved 130 tonne SLS vehicle will require an advanced booster with more thrust than any existing US liquid- or solid-fueled boosters.

Last year, NASA awarded three contracts aimed at improving the affordability, reliability and performance of the rocket’s advanced booster, including one focused on the F-1 engine. 

For more information on SLS, click here.


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