• It IS ‘rocket science’!

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      Philip Sharman

      IFRF Director

On my way to the American Flame Research Committee’s 2017 Industrial Combustion Symposium in Houston last month, I took the opportunity to fit in a visit to the amazing Johnson Space Center and NASA’s Mission Control on the Sunday.  I have always been fascinated by space flight – my father, an aeronautical engineer, met Yuri Gagarin and later authored the Ladybird Book on ‘Rockets and Spacecraft’ – and I built various models as a child, including a solid-propellant reaction engine.
From a combustion and flame research point of view, there were some very interesting exhibits at the JSC.

There were the enormous Rocketdyne F-1 gas-generator-cycle rocket engines (each 5.6m long, 3.7m diameter, weighing 8.4 tonnes and delivering an incredible 6.7MN of thrust) – five of which were used to propel NASA’s ‘Saturn V’ rocket from zero to 6,164mph and to a height of 42 miles as part of the ‘Apollo’ moon landing missions of the 1960s and early 1970s.  These engines used rocket-grade kerosene as fuel and liquid oxygen (LOX) as the oxidant.

At a smaller scale, there were the much more compact Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25D staged-combustion rocket engine (4.3m, 2.4m, 3.5t, 1.9MN), four of which will power the ‘Space Launch System’ (successor to the ‘Space Shuttle’) in sending the ‘Orion’ spacecraft to the moon initially (2020s), and then to an asteroid, Mars’ moons and, ultimately, a Mars landing (2020s-2030s).  These engines use cryogenic liquid hydrogen as fuel and LOX.

One nostalgic exhibit was the actual injector plate of an F-1 rocket engine, jettisoned from the Saturn V rocket that launched Apollo 11 on its successful moon landing in July 1969, and subsequently recovered from the bottom of the Atlantic.

I must admit to drooling quite a bit and can’t blame it all on jet-lag and age!

See our round up of the AFRC 2017 Symposium here.