You are on page 1of 6

Name Removed


Engine Project

RocketDyne RS-25 / Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME)

Throughout the history of mankind, we as a species have always been fascinated with the heavens. In ancient times, we did not have a clue about what went on in the sky. Eventually man began observing patterns of celestial objects. Some, such as Galileo, began forming controversial ideas based on those observations. Fast-forward to April 12, 1961 when Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin forever linked mankind with the cosmos, by becoming the first human in the history of mankind to leave Earth’s atmosphere.



used by



a Vostok

3KA capsule sitting atop a

Vostok 8K72K rocket. This engine had 118 seconds of burn-time and was powered by kerosene. Much advancement in the technology of spacecraft has occurred since the launch of Vostok 1. The U.S. space shuttle program was the first of its kind, in the sense that it was a reusable aircraft that exited Earth in the form of a rocket, and landed in the form of an airplane. What made this possible was the development of the Rocketdyne RS-25, more commonly referred to as the Space Shuttle Main Engine (or the SSME).

Name Removed AIRP2355-1001 Engine Project RocketDyne RS-25 / Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) Throughout the history

At launch, the Space

Shuttle has quite

the array of horsepower. It has three SSME’s, two Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs), as well as dual AJ10-190 engines. The weight of the spacecraft is entirely

supported by the solid rocket boosters while




the launch pad. The

solid rocket

boosters provide extra thrust for the first

two minutes, or 150,000 feet of the ascent,








orbiter and parachute into the ocean. The

auxiliary tank stays with the orbiter beyond the atmosphere, and burns up upon reentry.

The AJ-10 engines are part of the Orbital Maneuvering System. Earlier versions were used in the Apollo Service Module. These are smaller engines primarily used to correct any off-course variations in the course of the shuttle through space, as well as to guide the orbiter into its return path.

The basic operating principle behind rocket engines is that thrust is provided via the express discharge of matter. Thrust is created by mixing a fuel source, an oxidizer, and heat; and, in this case, is measured in pounds or kilograms, depending on where you are from. The SSME produces around between 375,000 and 475,000 pounds of thrust. Each SRB also produces nearly three million pounds of thrust for the duration of its burn.

The SSME has many parts working together to create thrust. The fuel used is liquid hydrogen, and the oxidizer is liquid oxygen. The boiling point of oxygen is -183°F and of hydrogen is -252.9°F, meaning these elements can exist as a liquid below these temperatures. The hydrogen and oxygen are obviously stored in different compartments within the auxiliary fuel tank. They enter the orbiter separately, flowing through the lines of the Main Propulsion System (MPS) on separate paths. The fuel gets pumped into a low-pressure fuel turbo pump, at about 276 psi, then into a high-pressure turbo pump where it exits at around 6,500 psi. The high pressure produced by these turbo pumps permits the high-speed operation of the oxidizer turbines without defect. After the liquid hydrogen leaves the high-pressure turbo pump, it enters the main fuel valve where it splits off into one of three different paths.

The first possible path for the fuel is into the coolant system for the Main Combustion Chamber (MCC). The engine has what is called regenerative cooling systems, where the fuel itself is used as a coolant. As with everything in spaceflight, the objective is to be as efficient as possible. Why have separate coolants when the fuel itself works just as good? After cooling the MCC the fuel flows through another low-pressure turbine where it can either go through the hot gas manifold and on into the MCC, or it can go pressurize an external tank.

The other two possible paths, after the initial high-pressure turbo pump, are to the chamber coolant valve or to the nozzle-cooling valve. In either case, these will flow through a pre-burner to provide power for the high-pressure fuel and oxidizer turbo pumps, by using a fuel-rich mixture inside these pre-burners. This turns the liquid hydrogen into a gaseous state, where it is transferred into the hot gas manifold. This is the final step before injection into the Main Combustion Chamber.

The oxidizer follows its own route into the MCC. After going through a low-pressure oxidizer turbo

The oxidizer follows its own route into the MCC. After going through a low-pressure oxidizer turbo pump, at 420psi, and also a high-pressure oxidizer turbo pump at 4,300 psi, the flow of liquid oxygen branches into four lines. The first is a heat exchanger, where presumably a fluid of some sort is in an adjacent tank or line to transfer heat from the warmer tank into the cooler one. The second path it can take is directly to the injectors of the MCC. The third seems to accomplish the most, aside from providing lift. It pushes through yet another high-pressure oxidizer turbo pump into the pre- burners. The expansion of the oxygen here powers the fuel turbo pumps, and after it does so flows into the hot gas manifold, where it too is injected into the MCC. The fourth path powers the low pressure turbo oxidizer pump.

Upon entering the MCC, the oxidizer and the fuel are in a gaseous state, and are mixed together in the injector. The fuel-rich mixture comes from the hot gas manifolds, mixing in the injector, where it is then introduced to the Main Combustion Chamber. Inside the MCC itself, there is a small “augmented-spark igniter-chamber” which is only active during the first three seconds of the sequence. Beyond that, and the combustion of the engine is self-sustaining. The shell of the MCC is made from an alloy made specifically for the RS-25 during the 1970s. The shell contains channels running through the sides which allows the liquid hydrogen to double as a coolant, as previously mentioned.

Controlling this sequence is the Main Engine Controller, or the MEC. It is mounted straight on the engine and consists of two Motorola processors. The system is redundant, making a total of two MECs with a total of four processors. These controllers are wired to the computers inside the cockpit of the orbiter to be controlled by the crew. If one of these systems fails, it

automatically switches over to the other system. These systems were designed with the knowledge in mind that they will be subject to excessive G-loads, and have been effective in handling such environments.

automatically switches over to the other system. These systems were designed with the knowledge in mind

The nozzle and gimbal are the piece of the engine that we, as observers, are most familiar with. The nozzle is the cone shaped extension that directs the exhaust. The end of the nozzle is slightly narrower than the widest portion, which is just before it. This raises the pressure around the rim slightly more than at the base of the nozzle. Liquid hydrogen also runs through channels in the nozzle cooling it down. The gimbal is a ball-and-socket type joint at the base of the nozzle that allows for the direction of the nozzle to be varied on two axes with variation ±10.5° from it s original location, in turn varying the vector of thrust, which ultimately steers the vehicle. The gimbal itself is made of a titanium alloy.

The history of the space shuttle program used a total of 46 RS-25 engines. There were 135 missions, multiply times three engines per mission for 405 total uses of the engine. Although there were several instances of problems with the engine, there was only one single instance of an in-flight failure of the RS-25. It was on the Challenger mission STS-51-F. This was NOT the mission when the Challenger exploded, that was due to a problem with the Solid Rocket Booster. The RS-25 functioned like it should have when we lost the Challenger. Pratt & Whitney boast a 99.95% reliability rate from the RS- 25. By any standards, those numbers prove the RS-25 is an extremely well designed, well built, and well performing engine. I think I speak for millions when I say it was a sad day when the shuttle program ended.


"The Cause of the Accident". Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident. NASA. June 6, 1986.