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Shuttle rocket test

Shuttle rocket test

Nov. 17, 1981: The main engine in the space shuttle program undergoes a test firing at the Santa Susana Mountains field laboratory site of Rockwell International.

Even though the first operational space shuttle Columbia had completed two flights, Rocketdyne engineers continued engine testing. Staff writer Mark. A. Stein explained in a Nov. 22, 1981, Los Angeles Times article:

The space shuttle Columbia’s second flight had hardly become history last week when engineers at Rocketdyne in Canoga Park shifted their thoughts from that feat to another – squeezing even more power from the shuttle’s reusable rocket engines.

It won’t be easy. The space shuttle’s main engines – SSMEs in the lexicon of space-age acronyms – are already the most powerful liquid-fuel rocket engines in history, and they are designed to be used on as many as 55 missions….

Test engines, the most recent of which was fired at the Rocketdyne test site in the Santa Susana Mountains near Chatsworth last week, already have peaked at the 109% level, known as the full-power level. Current shuttle engines also are capable of reaching that level, but only in emergencies because full power puts tremendous stress on critical parts, causing them to wear out too quickly.

To overcome the problem of wear and tear, Rocketdyne engineers have chosen a rather straightforward approach. “Basically,” explained Domonick Sanchini, overall manager of the SSME program, “it’s about as simple as you can think of: we just run it harder and harder, creeping up on 109%, until something breaks.”

And when that happens, “We’ll simply fix it, and continue on,” said James R. Hale, who oversees the design of turbo pumps, combustion devices and valves.

This photo by former staff photographer Ken Dare was published on the front page of the Nov. 22, 1981, Los Angeles Times Valley section.

For more, check out Space Shuttle pictures 1972-2011.

1 Comment

  1. April 10, 2013, 11:05 am

    I used to love going up to SSFl to watch SSME tests. 300 seconds and a huge vapor cloud mushrooming up into the sky. Always had to bring an umbrella because when that cloud would condense there was a huge downpour. Shame to see it gone.

    By: Seastink

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