NASA begins rocket testing

  • 30-Jun-2008 06:42 EDT

Core components of the J-2X engine for NASA’s Constellation program being installed on the A-1 Test Stand at NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center. Tests simulated inlet and outlet conditions that would be present on the turbomachinery during a full-up engine hot-fire test.


Data from the tests of core components of a rocket engine from the Apollo era that carried the first Americans to the moon will help NASA build the next-generation engine that will power the new Ares launch vehicles, it says. Beginning this past December, NASA began testing the engine’s powerpack, a gas generator, and turbopumps that perform the rocket engine’s major pumping and combustion work. These components originally delivered propellants to the J-2 engine that fueled the second stage of the Saturn V rockets.

Those heritage components are being used to develop the J-2X, which will be tasked to power the upper stages of both the Ares I crew launch vehicle and the Ares V cargo launch vehicle. Results from the tests will help engineers modify the turbomachinery to meet the higher performance requirements of the two next-generation vehicles.

“The J-2X engine will incorporate significant upgrades to meet higher thrust and efficiency requirements for Ares,” said Mike Kynard, Manager of the upper-stage engine in the Ares Projects Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC). “That’s why we’re taking a new look at these componentsto gather performance data, test their limits, and reduce risks down the road when we’re building and testing the engine.”

The powerpack tests were conducted at NASA’s Stennis Space Center, where the components were installed in late September.

During the initial trials, engineers ran liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen through the powerpack, monitoring its ducts, valves, and lines while simulating conditions as if it were attached to a rocket upper stage and main combustion chamber. Engineers were able to preview conditions that might be present during an engine test fire.

The first test in the series was a chill test, during which engineers verified the tightness of seals in the fuel lines and pumps at propellant temperatures as low as -425°F. Engineers also verified the accuracy of the chill procedure and determined the amount of time required to chill the pumps. NASA says that initial indications show that all test objectives were met and no anomalies were noted.

Later tests in the series will include test fires at a variety of power levels and durations ranging from 12 s to 550 s. At press time, testing was scheduled to continue through the end of this month.

The Ares I is an inline, two-stage rocket that will transport the Orion crew vehicle to low Earth orbit. Orion will accommodate as many as six astronauts on missions to the International Space Station or as many as four crew members on lunar missions. The Ares V, a heavy-lift launch vehicle, will enable NASA to launch a variety of science and exploration payloads and key components needed to go to the moon.

Under a contract awarded in July 2007, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne will design, develop, test, and evaluate the engine. MSFC in Huntsville manages the J-2X upper stage engine for NASA’s Constellation Program

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