Volume 4, Number 2 May/June 1996
NASA and private industry are working on a revolutionary technology that will not only reduce NASA and military rocket launch costs but also will safeguard the environment while keeping the world cool.
Engineers from Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.; rocket engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney of West Palm Beach, Fla.; air-conditioning industry leader Carrier Corp. of Syracuse, New York; and U.S. Air Force's Phillips Laboratory at Edwards AFB, Calif., are working on this dual-use technology that will replace the traditional rolling element bearings used in rocket engines and hydrodynamic journal bearings used in air conditioner chiller units with hydrostatic bearings.
Fluid pumped into hydrostatic bearing systems keep the rocket engine and chiller unit's rotating turbopump shaft centered in the pump, reducing friction and extending the life of the bearings. The fluid enters the small space between the bearing and the shaft through six or more points around the perimeter of the rotating shaft. Hydrostatic bearings used in the commercial cooling and refrigeration industry have significant environmental advantages over freon which is now used. They operate with HFC-134a, a non-ozone depleting coolant, and they eliminate the need for 72,000 gallons of oil annually because they do not have to be lubricated. Used oil is hazardous waste.
Eliminating the need for lubricating oil, which contaminates coolant in traditional refrigerant compressors, improves heat transfer performance, reduces unit costs and power costs, increases reliability, and extends the unit's life. Units with hydrostatic bearings will also be cheaper to fabricate and assemble.
Jonathan Shaw, manager of communications for Carrier Corp., said he believes the hydrostatic bearings technology will keep the U.S. firm on top of the world's air conditioning and refrigeration equipment market. He also projects that new jobs will be created as manufacturing facilities for hydrostatic bearing air conditioners chiller units come on-line before the end of the century.
Future military and NASA rocket engines would be much lighter as a result of hydrostatic bearing pumps because the new technology has ten times fewer parts than its traditional counterpart. A simpler, lighter bearings system would result in enhanced launch-on-demand capabilities, lighter launch vehicles, heavier payloads, less propulsion system maintenance and longer engine life. This system also would be cheaper to manufacture and assemble and more reliable because of its fewer parts. Engines with hydrostatic bearings may be retrofitted into existing rocket designs, cutting costs.
As another advantage, NASA, the Department of Defense (DoD) and the rocket engine industry may use HFC-134a to test hydrostatic bearings in rocket engines with fuel pumps designed to use liquid hydrogen. Surrogate fuel testing is safer because HFC-134a, unlike liquid hydrogen, is not combustible. The Dual-Use Hydrostatic Bearing Program is a federal Technology Reinvestment Project as part of the DoD's Advanced Research Projects Agency. For more information about NASA's Technology Reinvestment Program and partnering with industry, call 800-USA-NASA.
For more information about this technology, contact Chris Bramon at Marshall Space Flight Center. Phone: 205/544-2800. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Please mention that you read about it in Innovation.
Robert Hutchings Goddard was one of the pioneers of modern rocketry. He was born on October 5, 1882, in Worcester, Massachusetts. He spent his early life there, and received his doctorate at Clark University in Worcester. In 1919, he published "A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes," in which he proposed using rockets to travel to the Moon. Goddard did extensive research to advance the field of rocketry during his life. He was the first to show that rockets could operate in a vacuum, developed much of the mathematics of rocketry, and was a pioneer in rocket instrumentation and gyroscopic control. His most significant achievement is considered to be the development of the liquid-fueled rocket, which provides considerably more control of thrust than solid-fueled rockets. His first successful launch of a liquid-fueled rocket was on March 16, 1926. As a visionary, Goddard was often ridiculed, and during World War II, the U.S. government was not convinced of the value of rockets. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is named in honor of his contributions.