New engine tested at Stennis

Published 3:21 pm Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Continued transport services to the International Space Station provided by the United States are one step closer to being established after John C. Stennis Space Center conducted a engine test Monday afternoon.

With only one more Space Shuttle launch scheduled for this year before that program is retired, transport services to bring supplies and astronauts to the Space Station will have to be handled by the Russian Soyuz space craft until an alternative comes into play. NASA is testing the AJ26 engine and Orbital Science Corp’s Taurus II rocket as that alternative.

To keep transport services within the United States economical while freeing up NASA’s resources to develop technology capable of exploring space outside of low Earth orbit, development of a new transport craft to the space station will need to be handled by commercial entities, said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. To do that, development of the Taurus II vehicle and it’s first stage engine is underway at Stennis. On Monday, the site conducted a test of the engine at their E-1 test stand.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Monday’s test collected data that still needs to be evaluated to determine just how successful the test was, by ensuring the engine was properly calibrated, delivered proper fuel ratios and to see if the gimble mechanism was operating properly said Orbital president J.R. Thompson. The test was conducted using a modified version of a Russian made engine, the NK-33, to create the AJ26, Thompson said. He said the NK-33 was manufactured about 50 years ago. Modifications to the Russian engine so it can meet the company’s needs included allowing the engine to gimble, or steer the vehicle, along with improvements to the fuel delivery system and the engine’s start cartridge, he said.

Thompson said he hopes to make the AJ26 an American made engine in the future and says the engine has potential to serve NASA’s heavy lift needs.

Testing of the engine was held at Stennis’ E-1 complex, which was built in the late 1980s, said Stennis Director Patrick Scheuermann. To test the AJ26 some modifications had to be made to the stand, such as allowing the engine to stand vertically, he said.

Bolden said he has flown in four previous space shuttle missions. After the AJ26 test, he commented on the difference between riding in a space craft and watching an engine test.

“It’s impressive to ride it, but it’s really impressive to watch it,” Bolden said.

A successful test will ensure that federal funding continues for the program and will keep America number one in space exploration, Bolden said.