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J-2X engine  (Source: cache.boston.com)
NASA plans to test the J-2X engine throughout the rest of this year

NASA announced that its next-generation J-2X engine will begin its second round of tests starting today.

The J-2X engine is a redesign of the J-2 engine that carried astronauts to the moon during the 1960s and 1970s. It was developed by Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne, which were awarded a $1.2 billion NASA contract.

The J-2X is the first new liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen rocket engine made in 40 years that will be able to send humans into space again. In fact, the J-2X engine is designed to power deep space missions and will be used for NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), which is a heavy-lift rocket intended for deep space missions.

Last year, NASA conducted the first round of testing on the J-2X engine, which resulted in successful test firings. In that particular round of sea-level tests, the J-2X engine was fired 10 times total for 1,040 seconds, reaching 100 percent power in just four tests. It also met a full flight-duration firing of 500 seconds in the eighth test, which proved to be quicker than any other U.S. engine.

Now, the J-2X is on to its second round of testing starting today. NASA will now simulate high-altitude conditions where there is lower atmospheric pressure. According to Tom Byrd, J-2X engine lead from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, J-2X engines will be tested in the SLS' second stage of flight where nozzle data and overall performance will be monitored.

"We're making steady and tangible progress on our new heavy-lift rocket that will launch astronauts on journeys to destinations farther in our solar system," said Charles Bolden, NASA administrator. "As we continue test firings of the J-2X engine and a myriad of other work to open the next great chapter of exploration, we're demonstrating our commitment right now to America's continued leadership in space."

The United States' role in space has been a hot topic since NASA retired its space shuttle fleet last year. Since that retirement, American astronauts have been forced to depend on Russian Soyuz rockets to make their way to the International Space Station (ISS), where the cost of one seat on the Russian spacecraft is expected to increase to $63 million by 2015. The U.S. knew it had to find another way to the ISS without depending on Russia, so it jumped on the private space travel industry to fill in the gap.

SpaceX, which is expected to be the first private company to send a spacecraft to the ISS on May 7, stepped up with its Dragon cargo capsule in an attempt to fill the void of the space shuttle fleet.

With the U.S. back in the space race, NASA plans to test the J-2X engine throughout the rest of this year. The engine is currently on the A-2 Test Stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

Source: NASA



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RE: not a bad start
By sparkuss on 4/25/2012 9:55:19 PM , Rating: 3
As much as I know, I understand the need for a heavy lift vehicle to get major systems into space.

But with commercial ability to get as far as they can already with non-rocket (Spaceship One), is it just cost prohibitive to get to a flight based vehicle just for crew flight up to orbit?


RE: not a bad start
By sportswear13 on 4/26/12, Rating: -1
RE: not a bad start
By Gondor on 4/26/2012 5:28:00 AM , Rating: 2
What ???


RE: not a bad start
By mellomonk on 4/26/2012 8:56:06 AM , Rating: 3
The notion of landing wheels down on a runway is romantic, but it is tough to beat the safety and simplicity of a ballistic re-entry and parachute landing. The new generation of 'capsules' will be reusable, unlike Apollo-era tech. As great as the shuttle was it's ground handling and refurbishment was a manpower and cost nightmare. Human flight will be far safer and ironically cheaper in the new generation of rockets and capsules.

I think that wings could return with some sort of partial air breathing, scramjet powered orbital craft, ala the X-30 NASP. Or even a fully reusable shuttle design similar to the original NASA concepts that where canned in 72'in lieu of the Rockwell Shuttle due to costs. Hopefully with forty plus years of experience and tech we could overcome the development and safety issues to build a new winged spacecraft.

But then there is the funding issue......


RE: not a bad start
By Solandri on 4/26/2012 3:49:31 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
The notion of landing wheels down on a runway is romantic, but it is tough to beat the safety and simplicity of a ballistic re-entry and parachute landing. The new generation of 'capsules' will be reusable, unlike Apollo-era tech. As great as the shuttle was it's ground handling and refurbishment was a manpower and cost nightmare.

Correct. The rationale for the Shuttle was the huge amount of equipment being thrown away with each Apollo and Gemini launch. The financial calculations were done and it was decided that re-using significant parts of the spacecraft would be more cost-effective.

Unfortunately, those calculations were done assuming 50-60 launches a year (yes we were supposed to be launching one shuttle every week - having two in orbit at a time was supposed to be common). With the 6-12 launches a year we were getting, the overhead of maintaining the refit and refurbishing facilities and staff far outweighed the cost savings of reusing the spacecraft.

Long-term I think we're going to see rockets and space planes used only to ferry delicate payloads like people. The more robust payloads like fuel, water, food, and most spacecraft equipment will be shot up into space via gas guns or rail guns. Those will have accelerations of 100g or more, making it unsurvivable for people. But they avoid the need to burn fuel to lift fuel, and so should afford considerable cost savings. Once all the pieces are in orbit, you can assemble them to build your space station / spacecraft, and off you go.


RE: not a bad start
By gamerk2 on 4/26/2012 1:31:06 PM , Rating: 2
The issue is escape velocity. Getting into Low Earth Orbit is easy enough, getting out of orbit requires more power. So there are two ways to get out of orbit:

1: Use a large rocket to get into orbit, and have the spaceship fitted with a smaller engine.

2: Have a engine capable of escape velocity built into the spaceship.

Option 2 greatly increases the spaceships mass, requiring an ever larger engine. Hence why Direct Ascent never would have worked in the long run. Disposable rockets to get into orbit greatly reduces the aircraft size, allowing a smaller engine that is capable of JUST getting out of orbit.


RE: not a bad start
By Jaybus on 4/26/2012 4:25:11 PM , Rating: 2
There is also still the multi-ship approach. The deep space ship consists of a reusable crew module, one or more disposable cargo modules, and one or more disposable booster modules. Those modules are launched separately with a heavy lift booster into LEO and assembled at the ISS. All of the heavy lift launches are automated and without crew. Crew are brought back and forth from the ISS by Space-X.


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