NASA Public Affairs Office
Stennis Space Center, MS 39529-6000
July 18, 2006
NEW ROCKET ENGINE COMBUSTION CYCLE TECHNOLOGY TESTING REACHES 100% POWER LEVEL
America’s only staged combustion liquid booster rocket engine now in development marked an important milestone last week on July 12 at NASA’s Stennis Space Center (SSC) near Bay St. Louis, Miss. The engine reached “steady-state” 100 percent operation demonstrating “mainstage” performance for the first time. The engine cycle demonstrator dubbed the Integrated Powerhead Demonstration, or IPD is a ground demonstrator engine combining the latest innovations in rocket engine propulsion technologies. The IPD program has conducted 21 of 26 tests and accumulated 300 seconds of operation up to latest 100 percent power level test.
The IPD engine has been designed, developed and tested through the combined efforts of Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, Inc. and Aerojet, under the program direction of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and technical direction of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC). Its technologies are directed at achieving the goals of the Integrated High Payoff Rocket Propulsion Technology, or IHPRPT, program and NASA's Exploration Technology development Program (ETDP).
Capable of generating about 250,000 pounds of thrust, the engine technology uses liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen in a first U.S. demonstration of the full-flow, staged-combustion (FFSC) cycle. It has been designed as a re-usable engine system, capable of up to 200 flights, and features high-performance long-life technologies and materials.
This FFSC cycle uses a fuel-rich pre-burner to drive the fuel turbopump, and an oxidizer-rich pre-burner to drive the oxygen turbopump. Because all of the propellants are burned in the preburners, more mass flow is available to drive the turbines than in a conventional staged combustion cycle. The additional power enables lower turbine temperatures and hence less stress, translating into longer turbine life, a key factor for reusable rocket engine life. In addition, the use of oxidizer-rich gas in the oxidizer turbine and fuel-rich gas in the fuel turbine eliminates the need for a complex propellant seal for the pumps, and the elimination of inadvertent propellant mixing failure modes at the seals increases engine system reliability. The innovation also includes a hydrostatic bearing technology that literally floats the turbine shaft on rocket propellants, eliminating wear, enabling high reusability.
Stephen Hanna, Air Force Research Laboratory's (AFRL) IPD Program Manager commented about the technology success and its team. “I can’t tell people how excited I am about this program. Our team, composed of engineers and managers from AFRL, the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, the NASA Stennis Space Center, Pratt&Whitney Rocketdyne, and Aerojet is incredibly talented and the best that the industry and Government have to offer. The partnership that we have forged between AFRL, NASA, and industry is second to none. We continue to pave new technological ground each day, currently developing and test firing the first new liquid rocket engine cycle in the last 35 years. That dates back to the early development days of the Space Shuttle's Main Engine.”
“Our intent is to validate new propulsion technologies that can be used in a new generation of rocket engines,” said Don McAlister, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (PWR) IPD program manager. “The IPD itself will not be flown, but its technologies will find their way into future rocket engines, and will be especially valuable for NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration.”
Added PWR President Byron Wood, “The IPD is a critical program that clearly demonstrates how effective NASA, the Air Force and industry can be when they work together for a common objective. That will be increasingly important as we continue to build on America’s leadership in space.”
"Reaching 100 percent power level is a major milestone in testing the IPD engine," said Stennis Space Center Director Rick Gilbrech. "Technologies developed through the IPD could benefit the Vision for Space Exploration - to return humans to the moon, Mars and beyond. I congratulate the entire IPD team led by the Air Force Research Lab and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and am proud of the Stennis test team for enabling this significant achievement."
“The IPD Program is an excellent example of focused effort by government and industry teams to reach shared goals that will advance the state of liquid rocket propulsion technology,” said Julie Van Kleeck, Aerojet Vice President of Space Programs. “We’re thrilled with the success we have had at bringing channel wall nozzle technology to this engine system demonstration. This program provides a cost-effective manner in which high payoff technologies can be demonstrated at component and engine system levels.”
The project is managed out of Air Force Research Laboratory at Edwards, AFB, Calif., with technical support from NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. Rocketdyne is the systems integrator and also provides the fuel turbopump, the oxidizer turbopump, the main injector, the main combustion chamber, engine control system and other engine systems components. Aerojet provides the fuel and oxidizer preburners, nozzle, and fuel pre-mixer. Test operations and facilities are provided by NASA SSC.
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