NASA Considers Apollo-Era F1 Engine for Space Launch System

Yahoo Contributor Network

Aviation Week reports that a company named Dynetics, in partnership with Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, will perform a study contract for NASA to explore whether a modern version of the Saturn V F1 booster could be used on the Space Launch System.

The F1 as an enhancement to the Space Launch System

The first version of the Space Launch System will be capable of taking 70 metric tons to low Earth orbit. The first versions of the SLS will use five segmented solid rocket boosters as strap-ons. But in order to fully realize its ability to perform crewed deep space missions, the SLS will have to be upgraded to take 130 metric tons to LEO. One of the possibilities is to use strap-on liquid fueled boosters using a modern version of the F1 engine, according to Aviation Week.

The F1 engine

According to a NASA fact sheet on the F1, each engine stood 19 feet high and 12 feet, 4 inches wide at the base. Each F1 was capable of creating 1.5 million pounds of thrust. The F1 burned oxygen and kerosene as fuel. A Saturn V, the rocket that propelled American astronauts to the moon, had five F1s in the first stage, giving the moon rocket 7.5 million pounds of thrust at takeoff.

Why the F1

According to a story in Spaceflight Now, the main reason for considering using F1s is that they constitute flight-ready hardware that can be quickly upgraded for use on the SLS, enhancing its ability to go to a full 130 metric tons by the third proposed flight in the early 2020s. F1 powered Saturns were successfully used in 13 flights during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The F1 remains the most powerful U.S. rocket engine ever developed and flown in an a space mission. Design problems inherent in a new rocket engine, such as turbopump design and combustion stability, have already been addressed in using a legacy hardware such as the F1.

Enhancing the F1

Dynetics suggests that the main approach to developing a modern version of the F1 is to enhance its affordability. The F1 engine was developed during an era when cost was not as great a factor as it is in the era of limited budgets. Modern materials and control systems will no doubt be used to create a modern, more affordable version of the F1 that can be pressed into service to send human beings back to the moon and beyond.

Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo and The Last Moonwalker. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.

View Comments (4)