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History of Space Shuttle Main Engine Turbopump Bearing Testing at the Marshall Space Flight CenterThe Space Shuttle is propelled into orbit by two solid rocket motors and three liquid fed main engines. After the solid motors fall away, the shuttle engines continue to run for a total time of 8 minutes. These engines are fed propellants by low and high pressure turbopumps. A critical part of the turbopump is the main shaft that supports the drive turbine and the pump inducer and impeller. Rolling element bearings hold the shaft in place during rotation. If the bearings were to fail, the shaft would move, allowing components to rub in a liquid oxygen or hydrogen environment, which could have catastrophic results. These bearings are required to spin at very high speeds, support radial and axial loads, and have high wear resistance without the benefit of a conventional means of lubrication. The Rocketdyne built Shuttle turbopumps demonstrated their capability to perform during launches; however, the seven hour life requirement was not being met. One of the limiting factors was the bearings. In the late 1970's, an engineering team was formed at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), to develop a test rig and plan for testing the Shuttle s main engine high pressure oxygen turbopump (HPOTP) bearings. The goals of the program were to better understand the operation of bearings in a cryogenic environment and to further develop and refine existing computer models used to predict the operational limits of these bearings. In 1982, testing began in a rig named the Bearing and Seal Material Tester or BSMT as it was commonly called. The first testing investigated the thermal margin and thermal runaway limits of the HPOTP bearings. The test rig was later used to explore potential bearing improvements in the area of increased race curvatures, new cage materials for better lubrication, new wear resistant rolling element materials, and other ideas to improve wear life. The most notable improvements during this tester s time was the incorporation of silicon nitride balls and bronze filled polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) cage inserts into the bearings and the anchoring of the SHABERTH bearing model and SINDA thermal computer model for cryogenic bearing analysis. In the mid 1990's, Pratt and Whitney (P&W) won the contract to deliver new high pressure turbopumps for the Shuttle s engines. P&W used two new bearing materials for the rings, Cronidur 30 and AISI 9310 steel and testing was needed on these new materials. A test rig had been designed and delivered to MSFC for testing hydrostatic bearings but with the need by Pratt to validate their bearings, the rig was reconfigured for testing of two ball bearings or a ball bearing and a roller bearing. The P&W bearings are larger than the Rocketdyne bearings and could not be installed in the BSMT. This new test rig was called the LH2 test rig and began operation in 1995. The LH2 test rig accumulated 75,000 seconds of run time in hydrogen. This test rig was valuable in two areas: validating the use of silicon nitride balls and rollers in Alternate Turbopump Development (ATD) bearings, which Pratt eventually used, and in proving the robustness of the balls and rollers after river marks appeared on the surface of the rolling elements. Individual test reports have been presented at conferences and symposiums throughout the years. This paper is a comprehensive report of all the bearing testing done at Marshall. It represents thousands of hours of dedication and labor in all engineering and technical fields that made this program a success.
Document ID
Acquisition Source
Marshall Space Flight Center
Document Type
Conference Paper
Gibson, Howard
(NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Huntsville, AL, United States)
Thom, Robert
(NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Huntsville, AL, United States)
Moore, Chip
(NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Huntsville, AL, United States)
Haluck, Dave
(Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne United States)
Date Acquired
August 24, 2013
Publication Date
May 3, 2010
Subject Category
Spacecraft Design, Testing And Performance
Report/Patent Number
Meeting Information
Meeting: 57th JANNAF Joint Propulsion Meeting
Location: Colorado Springs, CO
Country: United States
Start Date: May 3, 2010
End Date: May 7, 2010
Sponsors: Department of the Army, NASA Headquarters, Department of the Air Force, Department of the Navy
Distribution Limits
Public Use Permitted.
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