The F-1 Engine Powered Apollo Into History

on April 2, 2012 7:57 AM EDT

NASA
Test firing of all five F-1 engines for the Saturn V S-IC test stage at the Marshall Space Flight Center (Photo: NASA)

The F-1 engine -- the most powerful single-nozzle, liquid fueled rocket engine ever developed -- boosted the Saturn V rocket off the launch pad and onto the moon during NASA's Apollo program during the 1960s and 1970.

Five F-1 engines were used in the 138-foot-tallS-IC, or first stage, of each Saturn V, which depended on the five-engine cluster for the 7.5 million pounds of thrust needed to lift it from the launch pad. The mighty engines, developed by engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and its industry team, were fueled by a mixture of liquid oxygen and kerosene.

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The cluster of five F-1 engines burned more than 15 metric tons of propellant per second during its two-and-one-half-minutes of operation. Each F-1 engine had more thrust than three space shuttle main engines combined to lift the vehicle to a height of about 36 miles and to a speed of about 6,000 mph.

The F-1 engine had roots outside NASA, born as an Air Force program developed by the aerospace firm Rocketdyne in 1955. NASA inherited it during a transfer of projects, conducted its own feasibility studies and awarded Rocketdyne a follow-on contract to step up work on the gargantuan propulsion system not long after NASA's formation, in 1960.

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The decision to develop an engine capable of lofting large orbital payloads into space was bolstered by Russian successes in that arena and also by U.S. plans for circumlunar missions, or missions around the moon and human excursions to the moon.

The development of the F-1 was a major step forward in rocket engine technology -- a major design advancement.

The heart of the engine was the thrust chamber, which mixed and burned the fuel and oxidizer to produce thrust. A domed chamber at the top of the engine supplied liquid oxygen to the injectors, and also served as a mount for the gimbal bearing which transmitted the thrust to the body of the rocket. Below this dome were the injectors, which directed fuel and oxidizer into the thrust chamber -- a design to promote mixing and combustion.

At 19 feet high and just over 12 feet wide, the bell-shaped engine with tubular walls designed for regenerative cooling achieved remarkable records in operational reliability and longevity.

Fuel was supplied to the injectors from a separate manifold; some of the fuel first travelled in 178 tubes down the length of the thrust chamber -- which formed approximately the upper half of the exhaust nozzle -- and back in order to cool the nozzle.

The mighty F-1 remains the most powerful American liquid-fuel rocket engine ever developed. The F-1 still holds the record as the largest single-chamber, single-nozzle liquid fuel engine ever flown.

Source: NASA

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