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Space Shuttle Main Engine - The Relentless Pursuit of ImprovementThe Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) is the only reusable large liquid rocket engine ever developed. The specific impulse delivered by the staged combustion cycle, substantially higher than previous rocket engines, minimized volume and weight for the integrated vehicle. The dual pre-burner configuration permitted precise mixture ratio and thrust control while the fully redundant controller and avionics provided a very high degree of system reliability and health diagnosis. The main engine controller design was the first rocket engine application to incorporate digital processing. The engine was required to operate at a high chamber pressure to minimize engine volume and weight. Power level throttling was required to minimize structural loads on the vehicle early in flight and acceleration levels on the crew late in ascent. Fatigue capability, strength, ease of assembly and disassembly, inspectability, and materials compatibility were all major considerations in achieving a fully reusable design. During the multi-decade program the design evolved substantially using a series of block upgrades. A number of materials and manufacturing challenges were encountered throughout SSME s history. Significant development was required for the final configuration of the high pressure turbopumps. Fracture control was implemented to assess life limits of critical materials and components. Survival in the hydrogen environment required assessment of hydrogen embrittlement. Instrumentation systems were a challenge due to the harsh thermal and dynamic environments within the engine. Extensive inspection procedures were developed to assess the engine components between flights. The Space Shuttle Main Engine achieved a remarkable flight performance record. All flights were successful with only one mission requiring an ascent abort condition, which still resulted in an acceptable orbit and mission. This was achieved in large part via extensive ground testing to fully characterize performance and to establish acceptable life limits. During the program over a million seconds of accumulated test and flight time was achieved. Post flight inspection and assessment was a key part of assuring proper performance of the flight hardware. By the end of the program the predicted reliability had improved by a factor of four. These unique challenges, evolution of the design, and the resulting reliability will be discussed in this paper.
Document ID
Acquisition Source
Marshall Space Flight Center
Document Type
Conference Paper
VanHooser, Katherine P.
(NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Huntsville, AL, United States)
Bradley, Douglas P.
(Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne Canoga Park, CA, United States)
Date Acquired
August 25, 2013
Publication Date
September 27, 2011
Subject Category
Launch Vehicles And Launch Operations
Report/Patent Number
Meeting Information
Meeting: AIAA SPACE 2011 Conference
Location: Long Beach, CA
Country: United States
Start Date: September 27, 2011
End Date: September 29, 2011
Sponsors: American Inst. of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Distribution Limits
Public Use Permitted.
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