Plum Brook begins testing moonship components

NASA Plum Brook's Cryogenic Component Laboratory, which works with chilled rocket fuel, is being used for tests to support NASA's ho
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010

NASA Plum Brook's Cryogenic Component Laboratory, which works with chilled rocket fuel, is being used for tests to support NASA's hottest program -- Project Constellation, NASA's effort to send astronauts to the Moon and Mars.

The Cryogenic Component Laboratory, formerly housed at Lewis Field in Cleveland but now part of Plum Brook, is hosting tests involving liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen -- gases that are mixed together to ignite rocket engines -- and liquid nitrogen.

One part of Project Constellation is trying to build the Ares I rocket, the large rocket that will be used to propel astronauts into space. The tests being conducted at the CCL are to aid the design of a safety system for the upper stage of the Ares I, which is being designed by NASA and built by Boeing.

Leaking oxygen and hydrogen in the upper stage rocket could be dangerous, so a purge system needs to be created next to the rocket engines and storage tanks to use nitrogen, an inert gas, to render the area not chemically reactive and control temperatures, explained Bruce Frankenfield, technical lead for purge and hazardous gas systems.

Although nitrogen eventually will be used as the purge gas, the ongoing tests at Plum Brook are using ordinary air to test a design for the purge system, Frankenfield said.

"Bruce will make modifications to his design to make it better and to thoroughly understand it," said Carol Tolbert, project manager for purge and hazardous gas systems.

The tests at the Cryogenic Component Laboratory began in February and are still being carried out. The team consists of about seven people, with about four directly involved in the testing. In addition, mechanics and electricians from Plum Brook are providing support.

A critical review of the design for the upper stage of Ares I is scheduled for early 2010.

"I think it's very exciting to be a part of the big picture, to be making a contribution to the rocket," Tolbert said.