Mar. 16, 1999 NASA has begun full-engine, hot-fire testing of the Fastrac rocket engine. A 20-second, full-power test this month at NASA’s Stennis Space Center, Miss., demonstrated operation of the complete engine system.
Fastrac is a 60,000-pound-thrust engine that will be used for the first powered flight of NASA’s X-34 technology demonstrator. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., designed and developed the Fastrac engine.
"This is an exciting time as we transition from testing individual pieces of the engine to hot-fire testing of the full engine," said Danny Davis, manager of Marshall’s Low Cost Technologies Project. "This engine will dramatically reduce the cost of launch systems for space transportation. Last Thursday’s test is a key step toward demonstrating that the engine’s inexpensive parts and technologies work well together."
Marshall Center engineers are in their second year of design, analysis and component-level testing of parts such as the injector, gas generator and turbopump. This month’s series of testing at Stennis marked the first time for the whole engine system to be operated at full power. Up to 85 full-engine tests are scheduled at Stennis this year. NASA engineers will examine data collected during full-engine testing to determine if engine design models and analyses are correct.
The Fastrac engine is less expensive than similar engines because of an innovative design approach that uses commercial, off-the-shelf parts and fewer of them. Fastrac uses common manufacturing methods, so building the engine is relatively easy and not as labor-intensive as manufacturing typical rocket engines.
The Fastrac engine operates with a single turbopump, which includes only two pumps – one for kerosene and one for liquid oxygen. Fastrac uses a gas generator cycle, which burns a small amount of kerosene and oxygen to provide gas to drive the turbine and then exhausts the spent fuel.
Since Marshall Center engineers developed the Fastrac engine in-house, there are no industry proprietary rights to its performance data. Technology generated through Fastrac is available to the entire U.S. aerospace industry.
Development and reliability testing will continue through 1999. The Marshall Center is testing individual components and Stennis is conducting system-level tests of the full engine. Marshall shipped the first complete engine system to Stennis in August 1998.
NASA’s industry team for design, development and manufacture of the Fastrac engine includes Summa Technology Inc. of Huntsville, which builds components such as the gas generator, propellant lines, ducts and brackets; Allied Signal Inc. of Tempe, Ariz., and Marotta Scientific Controls Inc. of Montville, N.J., which supply valves; Barber-Nichols Inc., which builds the turbopump; and Thiokol Propulsion, a division of Cordant Technologies Inc. of Salt Lake City, Utah, which builds the chamber nozzle.
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