Aerojet Rocketdyne tests third SLS engine controller
Propulsion hardware testing for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) continues at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Aerojet Rocketdyne just completed its third 500-second test of the controller unit for the RS-25 main engine on July 25.
The brains of the operation
Before they began their new lives as core stage engines for SLS, the liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen RS-25s were the main engines for NASA’s Space Shuttle. In that role, three RS-25s were clustered at the tail end of the orbiters. For SLS, a four-engine cluster will be positioned at the aft end of the core stage at the same level as the SRBs.
This will be a new thrust, thermal, and control environment for these legacy engines. Given the changes to the engine’s mission and the advances in avionics made since their first test firing in 1975, the RS-25s are getting the equivalent of a brain transplant.
The engine controller Aerojet Rocketdyne tested provides precise control of the engine’s operation and internal health diagnostics. It also allows the engine to communicate with SLS and human controllers on the ground. During launch and flight, the controller communicates with the SLS flight computers, receiving critical commands, returning engine status data, and making real-time corrections to turbopump speeds, combustion pressures, and thrust and propellant mixture ratios as needed.
“Achieving the optimum thrust and mixture ratio is crucial for creating an extremely efficient rocket engine,” added Dan Adamski, RS-25 program director at Aerojet Rocketdyne. “The RS-25 is the most efficient booster engine in the world, which is why it is the right engine for human exploration of deep space.”
NASA tested the first flight controller on the A-1 Test Stand at Stennis in March of this year, the second in May. After reviewing the test data, the first two controllers were designated for use on SLS. Tuesday’s single-engine, 500-second test concentrated on controlling and monitoring the engine’s thrust and mixture ratio precision operation.
The controller tested on July 25 is slated to be used on the inaugural flight of SLS, Exploration Mission (EM) 1, scheduled for 2019. EM-1 will send an uncrewed Orion spacecraft around the Moon and return it safely to Earth. Once NASA has four flight-ready engines, the SLS program will be able to start testing the RS-25s in four-engine clusters on Stennis’ B-2 Test Stand.
Video courtesy of NASA
Bart Leahy is a freelance technical writer living in Orlando, Florida. Leahy's diverse career has included work for The Walt Disney Company, NASA, the Department of Defense, Nissan, a number of commercial space companies, small businesses, nonprofits, as well as the Science Cheerleaders.