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NASA resurrects the ‘world’s most powerful rocket engine’ ever built

NASA has resurrected the “world’s most powerful rocket engine” ever built for the purpose of creating the nation’s future heavy lift rocket, according to a space agency news release. NASA test fired the F-1’s gas generator Thursday at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The F-1 is famous for having powered the Saturn V rocket.

The test of the F-1’s gas generator is part of a series of tests that will push the gas generator to limits well beyond prior Apollo-era tests. NASA engineers used modern instruments on the test stand to measure performance and combustion properties to give them a starting point for building a new, cheaper, advanced propulsion system for the nation’s future heavy lift rocket.

“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, in a statement. “These tests are only the beginning. As SLS 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 is a key F-1 rocket component that uses liquid oxygen and kerosene and is the part of the engine tasked with supplying power to drive the giant turbopump. NASA officials say that the gas generator is usually one of the first pieces outlined on a new engine because it is a key factor in deciding the engine’s size, which is a determinant in the engine’s power and ability to lift heavy payloads and launch them into space.

NASA is designing the nation’s future heavy lift rocket to give the space agency an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit. The initial 77-ton Space Launch System configuration will utilize two 5-segment solid rocket boosters like the boosters that sent the space shuttle into orbit. The new 143-ton SLS vehicle will need an advanced booster with more thrust than any existing U.S. liquid- or solid-fueled boosters can provide.

“It’s important that our workforce get hands on experience on systems like the F-1 gas generator as it helps make them smart buyers, and good stewards of what we procure from industry,” said Chris Crumbly, manager of the SLS Advanced Development Office at the Marshall Center, in a statement. “As we look to the future advanced boosters for SLS we are eager to see what our partners in industry can provide as far as a more powerful and affordable solution.”

Photo credit: NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given.