This magnificent F-1 rocket engine is on display in front of the Infinity Science Center in Hancock County, Mississippi. Infinity is located across the highway from NASA Stennis Space Center, where they tested these beasts during the Apollo days. Beside the enormous F-1 stands an H-1 engine, which produced eight times less thrust (shown in final photo).
During testing, five F-1 engines, each producing 1.5 million pounds of thrust, roared to life, liquefying the ground with its acoustic shock wave surrounding the B-2 test stand at Stennis. Eventually, five of these engines would carry the Saturn V rocket (shown in a previous post, click here to view) for the first 150 seconds of its journey, guzzling fifteen tons of fuel per second. I once heard that these engines got an average fuel mileage of two inches per gallon.
The F-1 uses an RP-1 (refined kerosene, similar to jet fuel) as its fuel, and a LOX (liquid oxygen) oxidizer. It is currently the most powerful liquid fuel rocket engine in existence. There have been more powerful solid fuel engines, and liquid fuel engine clusters.
The engine was designed by Rocketdyne, first for the Air Force, who wanted a large engine such as this. Later, the Air Force dropped the program after a testing phase, but NASA restarted the F-1 development for use with their space program.
Incredible problems were overcome during the development of this engine. Notably, a condition called combustion instability. During combustion instability, the gasses in the combustion chamber began to spin at an incredible two thousand cycles per second, creating hot spots in the chamber structure, which eventually cause the engine to fail catastrophically, (e.g. explode). The problem was overcome, after months of research and thousands of man hours, by redesigning the injector plate (shown in the third photo) numerous times, until the problem mostly went away.
Amazingly, the operational life of the F-1 may live on. A team is currently firing an original F-1 at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center (a facility which I covered in a previous post, click here to view), familiarizing themselves with it’s characteristics, and will be modifying the design for possible use with the final evolution of the future NASA SLS rocket. This modified engine will be called the F-1B, and will produce 1.8 million pounds of thrust, which is far more than the original. I’ve covered the first first flight-ready component of the SLS booster in a previous post (click here to view).