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#1 Crisp

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 13:35

NASA fires up museum-piece Apollo rocket for the first time in 40 years after dragging it out the Smithsonian

  • F-6049 engine was supposed to help propel Apollo 11 into orbit in 1969 - buy was grounded because of a glitch
  • Researchers now hope to study it to see if it can be updated for future missions
Nasa engineers have fired up a 40-year-old rocket engine they hope could help send man beyond the moon.

The engine, known to NASA engineers as No. F-6049, was supposed to help propel Apollo 11 into orbit in 1969, when Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins went to the moon for the first time.

However, while the mission was a success, the engine was grounded because of a glitch during a test in Mississippi.



Posted Image

The F-1 Engine tested at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, which was originally built for the Apollo 11 mission

It was later sent to the Smithsonian Institution, where it sat for years, and now engineers are learning to work with technical systems and propellants not used since before the start of the space shuttle program, which first launched in 1981.

Nick Case, 27, and other engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center ran a series of 11 test-firings of the F-6049's gas generator, a jet-like rocket which produces 30,000 pounds of thrust and was used as a starter for the engine.

They are trying to see whether a second-generation version of the Apollo engine could produce even more thrust and be operated with a throttle for deep-space exploration.

There are no plans to send the old engine into space, but it could become a template for a new generation of motors incorporating parts of its design.

In NASA-speak, the old 18-foot-tall motor is called an F-1 engine.

During moon missions, five of them were arranged at the base of the 363-foot-tall Saturn V system and fired together to power the rocket off the ground toward Earth orbit.

Thursday's test used one part of the engine, the gas generator, which powers the machinery to pump propellant into the main rocket chamber.

It doesn't produce the massive orange flame or clouds of smoke like that of a whole F-1, but the sound was deafening as engineers fired the mechanism in an outdoor test stand on a cool, sunny afternoon.

The device produced a plume that resembled a blow torch the size of two buses and set fire to a grassy area, which was quickly extinguished.

'It's not small,' Case said. 'It's pretty beefy on its own.'

And just like during the Apollo days, people in north Alabama heard rockets thundering in the distance during tests at Marshall.


Posted Image

Apollo 11 taking off. The engine being tested was built for the 1969 mission, when NASA sent Neil Armstrong and two other astronauts to the moon for the first time

'My wife and daughter were in our front yard and she said they could hear it, which was pretty cool,' Case said after an earlier test.

'We live about 15 miles away.'

A single F-1 engine can produce 1.5 million pounds of thrust using a fuel composed of liquid oxygen and refined kerosene, which was not used in the space shuttle.

The tests were conducted at Marshall in a project conducted with Dynetics Inc. and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, which are studying NASA's possibilities for deep-space missions years from now.

The space agency plans to use commercial launches to reach low Earth orbit; larger rockets are required to escape the planet's gravity.

R.H. Coates, an engineer who works with Case in Marshall's liquid propulsion office, said young engineers can learn a lot from the work done by predecessors using slide-rules in the 1960s, but no one wants to simply rebuild the old Saturn V engine.


Posted Image
Apollo 11 just after takeoff: Now experts say its rocket motor could be updated for future missions

'This wouldn't be your daddy's F-1,' Coates said. 'We'd use new materials and try to simplify it, update it.'

Case started at Marshall as a high school intern in 2002 and has been working there since graduating from the University of Alabama in Huntsville in 2008.

He said today's technology allows things that weren't possible during the 1960s, but he has been impressed by what he learned taking apart the unused Apollo 11 engine.

Engine No. F-6049 didn't fit properly on the Apollo 11 rocket, but it is invaluable now as a testing tool. Coates said a total of 85 F-1 engines were used on 17 Apollo flights without a single failure.

About a dozen F-1 engines remain in Huntsville, Ala., home of NASA's main propulsion center, and others are located elsewhere. Most are on display.

Case said engineers used engine No. F-6049 for the tests because it was the most complete.

'It is really an excellent booster,' he said. 'The guys in Apollo had it right.'


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#2 Praetor

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 13:44

it's amazing that 40+ years tech could still be used today (with some upgrades) and it's still good to go!

#3 ILikeTobacco

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 13:48

it's amazing that 40+ years tech could still be used today (with some upgrades) and it's still good to go!

That's because back then, things were built to last. Not this disposable crap we have today. That's why so many classic cars last to this day on their original motors and many modern cars don't last 5 years.

#4 Praetor

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 13:49

That's because back then, things were built to last. Not this disposable crap we have today. That's why so many classic cars last to this day on their original motors and many modern cars don't last 5 years.


So true.

#5 threetonesun

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 14:28

That's because back then, things were built to last. Not this disposable crap we have today. That's why so many classic cars last to this day on their original motors and many modern cars don't last 5 years.


That absolutely untrue. You see classic cars that are still around today, but only because you don't see all the ones that didn't make it. So yes, that 1 engine out of 500,000 lasted 50 years. On the other hand, it was pretty rare to get a car from the 50s or 60s to 100,000 miles. Today, it's pretty easy to get an entire car to 200,000, and there are some engines that will outlast the car body by another 200,000 miles.

Quality control has improved 100 fold since this rocket was designed. However, it was a prototype then, and NASA shelved the rocket program in favor of the space shuttle, so the work done on it was never followed through on, meaning a prototype from the 60s, after a 40 year hiatus in the program, is still relevant.

#6 Praetor

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 15:48

That absolutely untrue. You see classic cars that are still around today, but only because you don't see all the ones that didn't make it. So yes, that 1 engine out of 500,000 lasted 50 years. On the other hand, it was pretty rare to get a car from the 50s or 60s to 100,000 miles. Today, it's pretty easy to get an entire car to 200,000, and there are some engines that will outlast the car body by another 200,000 miles.

Quality control has improved 100 fold since this rocket was designed. However, it was a prototype then, and NASA shelved the rocket program in favor of the space shuttle, so the work done on it was never followed through on, meaning a prototype from the 60s, after a 40 year hiatus in the program, is still relevant.


not quite like that: there's allot of stuff that clearly the build quality and materials are cheaper then the previous versions: a couple of years ago I've bought a blender from the same brand that the blender my mom has (same model but 20 years newer :laugh: ); mine didn't last a year. When i went to tech support claiming warranty i saw lots of blenders (same as mine) broken, because of shoddy quality. :angry:

My mom's blender still works...20+ later. :woot:

#7 Astra.Xtreme

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 16:04

That absolutely untrue. You see classic cars that are still around today, but only because you don't see all the ones that didn't make it. So yes, that 1 engine out of 500,000 lasted 50 years. On the other hand, it was pretty rare to get a car from the 50s or 60s to 100,000 miles. Today, it's pretty easy to get an entire car to 200,000, and there are some engines that will outlast the car body by another 200,000 miles.


Fuel injection definitely helps. ;)
Cars back then weren't made from cheap crap plastic though like they are today. Plus things back then were over-engineered. Today it's about cutting as much cost out of something as possible.

#8 threetonesun

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 16:11

not quite like that: there's allot of stuff that clearly the build quality and materials are cheaper then the previous versions: a couple of years ago I've bought a blender from the same brand that the blender my mom has (same model but 20 years newer :laugh: ); mine didn't last a year. When i went to tech support claiming warranty i saw lots of blenders (same as mine) broken, because of shoddy quality. :angry:

My mom's blender still works...20+ later. :woot:


Sure, but inflation adjusted, your mom's blender was probably considerably more expensive. Certainly you can go out and buy quality household items these days that are just as good as the ones built "back in the old days", they're just more expensive than the Target shelf blender.

Fuel injection definitely helps. ;)
Cars back then weren't made from cheap crap plastic though like they are today. Plus things back then were over-engineered. Today it's about cutting as much cost out of something as possible.


Right, so we get safer and cheaper cars. Conversely, if you want a car made out of carbon fiber and hand-massaged cow leather with an engine that puts out 700 or so horsepower and a drivetrain that is smarter and faster than your brain sitting on top of forged aluminum wheels with tires that can withstand traveling at 250+ miles per hour, you can pony up the cash and get one. That certainly wasn't the case in the 60s.

#9 redvamp128

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 16:38

I asked my neighbor who worked for NASA during the 1960's until 1988 if he heard of this glitch... he said if this is the one he is thinking of the Glitch was that it produced two times the expected thrust it did in the prior test, then the third test the design produced less than the first.

He told me they always test each of them three times with the same amount of fuel and they should perform within the same parameters each time. He said he they also tested ten different examples of that design before they grounded it. So in other words they test-fired 30 different engine tests.

He said if it is the one he was thinking of it they grounded it because it did not produce consistent thrust and they could not count on it to produce the same thrust each time.
This causes issues when they would have to calculate rocket stage separation.
You would not want it not producing the right amount of thrust then the other kicking in and still not producing orbit or it still producing major thrust when it is supposed to drop off when jettisoned during the next stage when that next stage rocket motor kicks on.

He said back then they calculated fuel burns which would then give the astronaut a code to type in the keypad to stop the burn and ignite the next stage. Which was the main reason they needed them to burn within certain parameters no less than a certain amount of time with a set amount of fuel.

Which makes sense -Why they would decide to add a throttle... instead of fuel calculations like they used to do back then.

They are trying to see whether a second-generation version of the Apollo engine could produce even more thrust and be operated with a throttle for deep-space exploration.



#10 DocM

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 18:03

Saturn V was shut down because it was too f'ing expensive to fly.

That thrust variation is called POGO'ing, and it was a problem with F1 from day one. If Saturn V flights had continued a new version would have flown - the F1A.

This was NOT an F1 engine firing, just its gas generator - the combustor that drives the F1's fuel & oxygen turbopumps. It wasn't even an original gas generator - they laser scanned original parts and used the 3D scan to make new parts.

#11 Detection

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 18:07

They're going to use a 40 year old glitchy engine that has never been to space as a template for future engines ? .....

Yep, that's going to end well :laugh:

#12 Hum

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 18:12

They're going to use a 40 year old glitchy engine that has never been to space as a template for future engines ? .....

Yep, that's going to end well :laugh:


Well, it's not like Apollo 11 needed it to get to the Moon ... :whistle:

#13 Dead'Soul

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 18:19

even NASA begins rcycling :)

#14 HSoft

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 18:30

Saturn V was shut down because it was too f'ing expensive to fly.

Yes in a way it was but remember Saturns 18, 19 and 20 were already built and tested (the largest bulk of the money). All NASA needed was the money for the propellants to fly them, which if memory serves was around $1Million (1970s money. No idea what that is in todays money). Saturn 18 was used for Skylab but 19 and 20 weren't used at all and are now just museum pieces (which I would strongly encourage people to go see. Huntsville AL has 2 (one a mockup), Kennedy, FL has one and Johnson, TX has one. They are truly impressive machines).
The space shuttle was meant to be cheaper as a lot of it was re-usable (unlike the Saturn V) but it turned out not to be that much cheaper all things considered.

#15 redvamp128

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 18:31

They're going to use a 40 year old glitchy engine that has never been to space as a template for future engines ? .....

Yep, that's going to end well :laugh:


No not really this is more or less them ...

Looking at old technology to see if it could be used and improved for use today. (the design) And since there was still one around instead of building it ... an easy test for their idea.

This is in comparison... taking a look at an Automotive engine and looking for ways to improve it to make it more fuel efficient but in this case it was probably to see if the "GLITCH" could be fixed with a computer managed throttle.

Which would kind of make sense that would be possible now, before it would have to be someone putting codes in a computer (keypad) on a constant basis in order to get the mixture correct. Where now that can be regulated by a computer instead of by hand. That would fix the problem they initially had with the part.

That same neighbor also said their designers thought at the time the differences in fuel time burns were because of the uneven heating of the joints of the fuel lines and atmospheric pressure. Not to mention also that the pre-mixing of the fuel was not at a regulated rate. (but with that many tests it was easier just to go with a different design one that they knew worked.)