On Thursday, NASA tested RS-25, a super-powerful engine that would propel NASA’s Space Launch System rocket right into the upper atmosphere and put Orion, the first manned craft to Mars, to its way to the Red Planet.
If humanity manages to set foot on Mars it would be the equivalent of what happened on the moon about 50 years ago. For this reason, NASA test fired the engines of the rocket at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. It is the sixth time the main engine is tested. But the 70-metric-ton Orion would need two pairs of RS-25 and a couple of boosters to be able to reach Mars in our lifetime.
“It is the most complicated rocket engine out there on the market, but that’s because it’s the Ferrari of rocket engines,”
noted Kathryn Crowe, about the RS-25 engine.
Ms. Crowe said that the newly tested engine is unique because engineers were able to optimize it in three different areas – thrust, fuel economy, and weight-thrust ratio. Usually, a rocket engine can be improved in only one of these areas.
Martin Burkey of the SLS mission believes that a jet engine is very similar to a “wind-up toy” when compared to RS-25. Mr. Burkey argues that the SLS engine needs to withstand up to minus 400 degree temperatures in the region where fuel enters the engine and up to 6,000 degrees where exhaust fumes exit the place where gases were combusted. Plus, the engine needs a lot of fuel to generate such tremendous energy. NASA engineers said that the SLS engine can drain a medium-sized swimming pool filled with rocket fuel in 60 seconds.
The engine can generate about 12 million horsepower, or 512,000 pounds of thrust. It has two pairs of turbopumps and a shaft that can pull out up to 37,000 rotations per minute; by comparison, a car can only generate 3,000 rotations per minute at 60 mph. Each turbopump of the engine produces 100 HPs for every lb of weight.
Engineers also said that although it is as heavy and large as at the engine of an F-15 jet fighter, RS-25 can release eight times the trust. Only one turbine blade can yield more horsepower than a latest-generation Corvette engine.
The team argues that such speeds and power need to be tested and retested time and time again before even fancying of putting the spacecraft on orbit. Orion will be the first craft to carry humans to Mars, so an engine malfunction would mean more than several tons of supplies being blown up to pieces.
Image Source: Universe Today