Saturn v ‘Moon Rocket’ Engine Firing Again After 40 Years, Sort Of
The process for test-firing a 40+ year-old rocket engine, even if it’s just the gas generator segment, is complicated: no current launch vehicles use the engine, so it wasn’t a matter of simply grabbing one from a warehouse somewhere. Engineers removed components from an F-1 engine in storage at MSFC, as well as from another in “pristine” condition at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, and then laser-scanned them using a structured light 3D scanner. Once this had been done, new gas generator parts were fabricated from the scans.
The gas generator itself was no slouch, producing about 31,000 pounds of thrust when lit. In the full-up engine, this thrust was used to drive a turbine that produced about 55,000 bhp, which in turn drove the turbopumps that kept the thirsty engine fed with the three tons per second of RP-1 and LOx.
A redesigned version of the F-1 engine itself almost certainly won’t be used for SLS, but there’s still a huge amount of value in studying the old engine’s design. “This effort provided NASA with an affordable way to explore an engine design in the early development phase of the SLS program,” said Chris Crumbly, manager of the SLS Advanced Development Office.
The Space Shuttle Main Engines are far more efficient beasts than the venerable F-1—in addition to being reusable, they’re staged combustion engines, reclaiming and combusting their exhaust gasses. However, these engines are also tremendously complex compared to the F-1 design, and they are too expensive to use in single-use applications like SLS. The F-1 is a proven design, and by measuring exactly how it worked, it can be improved upon.