In which NASA unwittingly threatens a big-budget production of the opening chapter of Perigee. There’s a lot to unpack here. First, The Verge on the the buzz it has created inside the agency (and the inherent challenges):
NASA is mulling over the idea of putting astronauts on the first flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) — the giant heavy-lift rocket the space agency is building to take people to Mars someday. Currently, NASA is hoping to fly the SLS for the first time in fall of 2018, and the original plan was for that mission to be uncrewed. But a new memo sent out to NASA employees this morning shows that the agency will start investigating the possibility of making the debut flight of SLS, called EM-1, a crewed mission instead.
If NASA’s Space Launch System ever moves beyond “Powerpoint Engineering”, it might just do so with an update of the massive F1 engines that powered the Saturn V. If Uncle Sam’s gonna throw my hard-earned tax money down a hole anyway, then I’m cool with this particular hole:
Even though the performance goals of the engine will be close to its predecessor, its manufacturing will be done through radically different methods. The Dynetics folks echoed Betts, Case, and Coates when reflecting on the F-1’s construction, making many of the same observations about the jaw-dropping amount of hand-done work in the old design. In the name of affordability and efficiency, modern manufacturing techniques will be brought firmly to bear on the new version.
Each Pyrios booster will feature a pair of F-1B engines, built with techniques that more resemble 3D printing than traditional casting or milling. The main combustion chamber and nozzle in particular will undergo tremendous simplification and consolidating; the parts count for those two assemblies together will be reduced from 5,600 manufactured elements in the original F-1 down to just 40.
I have my doubts that this particular pig will ever fly, but if it leads to some serious R&D to perfect and cheapen an already heart-stoppingly powerful engine, then so much the better. With licensing and whatnot, somebody is bound to put it to good use.