Friday, February 29, 2008

Successful Firing - and a good show for the spectators

On Friday we actually succeeded in firing the new engine! But we did have a few difficulties that made the end of the test interesting. During the chill-down sequence we inadvertently left a purging valve open too long and ran out of liquified nitrogen!

So that meant we were stuck with two full tanks of propellant, a nice cold engine but no way to stop the combustion once the test was over. This was all in front of a crowd of maybe 100 invited onlookers and a substantial media crew. They certainly do things in style over here!

So what did we do? The show had to go on, of course. I received the command to continue with pressurization and then the firing sequence. The actual firing went without a hitch. The engine made a loud bang during ignition, as I was told would happen. During the actual firing, there was actually less noise than I expected, and the plume was almost invisible. Then after the main sequence was complete, the engine continued to flame for quite a long period of time, spilling quantities of LNG on the ground and causing a spectacular fire. After most of the propellant had burned up, someone had to approach the test stand with a fire extinguisher to put out the blaze.

Apparently the engine was unharmed since the temperature of the blaze at the end was too low to cause any damage.

So all in all, a successful event. Afterwards I got a glimpse of the thrust level reached during the test and it looked adequate, but I won't quote any numbers because they might be wrong.

Afterwards I got to see liquid oxygen (LOX) up close for the first time. The CEO of the contracted company who looks after the engine plumbing had some steaming in an open plastic container and was showing it around. It was a beautiful clear icy blue color. He suggested that we should drink some and it would be a cool and refreshing beverage. :)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Quick update

It looks like we will be going ahead with the firing test tomorrow! Lots of small delays have eaten into our intended dress rehearsal period such that we only finished the spilling test today. We will only have time for one complete dry run tomorrow morning. The spill test result, while not ideal, was considered acceptable enough to continue with the next stage.
We will be situated in a converted shipping container about 40 meters from the engine, so when ignition occurs it will be extremely loud. Our audience, which as I said before includes filmcrews from major Korean media companies, will be not much further away, out in the open. I've been told that it is quite safe, even if something goes wrong, because the propellants will be stored at a lower pressure than for a pressure fed engine.
I'm very thankful that the engine control system is now running extremely reliably and I seem to have shaken out all the bugs in the system, including non-critical comms problems that have persisted for some time. I will be very surprised if the control system causes any problems tomorrow.
Initially I will be controlling valves individually as commanded by an individual with the title "Test Commander" (The title is probably a translation from Russian to Korean to English, but at least it is unambiguous.) He will also command the other operators to manually open or close the manually operated valves as required. Then, I will click a button to start the automated test sequence that will last for about 30 seconds, with a 10 second burn time.

I'll put up a post to describe the result, when I remember!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Opinion - Why Space?

Since, as I said in my last post, I'm not pressed for time, I thought I'd do a quick opinion piece. Lately, with the presidential primaries in the US, there has been some talk about the reasons for having manned space exploration funded by the government. Personally I can think of only one really important reason - to set up the conditions for economic growth to continue into the long term future. The expression 'environmental sustainability' has reached popular recognition and acceptance, and for good reason. However sustainability has its own risks if carried into the long term. Stagnation, both economic and social, are the inevitable result. A much better model is gradual economic expansion, which can really only be supported by harvesting space based resources.
Until recently, I thought this would be a good argument to use to convince government that it is worthwhile supporting research into technology leading to space settlement, but apparently, some don't believe in such long term planning. Funding of the ITER project by the US government has been slashed to only $10.7 million this year, from $160 million promised. The reason given from the article: “R&D resources just aren’t there to support projects that are so expensive and have shown so little potential for promise in the near term.”
If that attitude is carried over into space exploration, then the inevitable conclusion will be reached that there is no compelling reason to fund crewed space exploration at all.


We were all set to perform our first engine test on Thursday next week, then yesterday, suddenly someone noticed some really nasty welding problems with the main propellant feed lines. The pipes and fittings were all provided by a subcontractor that was thought to be reliable. They are taking the problem seriously though. No less than 5 of them arrived at the test site at 7:00am and promised to have the problem fixed by 5pm today!

Meanwhile since the engine controller system is mostly complete, I am finding myself suddenly with no urgent tasks to work on, until the engine test system is complete. It's somewhat like being in the eye of a hurricane.

If you are wondering what all the hurry is about, the reason is that for marketing reasons we are trying to move the test date forward to next week if at all possible. Additionally the test will also be used for publicity purposes with representatives from all the (Korean) national media stations present. Frankly, this is a bit of a gamble, since we are testing a new engine using our own brand new facilities. We are depending on the heritage of the engine, with the mixing head and turbopump design both being in common with the previous engine that was successfully tested.

The official test date is now Friday next week. I'll keep posting any significant news.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Test preparations update

Yesterday morning was all meetings. I demonstrated the engine control system to be used for the test, and Mr Park demo'd the test sequence. Then, Unyong (Violet) Cha showed us the new company website design that will soon be rolled out.

We are now within a few weeks of performing our first engine test with the new lightweight engine components. I'll keep you posted if we have news to share.

Monday, February 04, 2008

International Perspective

Jeff Faust recently commented on a speech by Michael Griffin. I think he is wrong in one respect, in what he said. I seem to recall he has said the same kind of thing before. It is completely untrue that the USA would gain standing in the world by giving up its manned spaceflight program in favour of concentrating on internal affairs such as climate change, healthcare etc.

I don't know about western Europe, but in my experience the average person outside of the USA is surprisingly uninterested in the US participation in Kyoto and degree of participation in alternative energy research, or other fashionable activities. The US manned space program has a highly visible iconic (it is associated with a number of iconic images, such as the space shuttle launch, and the planting of the US flag on the moon) presence that is recognized and celebrated the world over. It probably doesn't hurt that it is also run by a civilian organization. Amongst average people around the world, and certainly here in Korea, it is seen as one of those things that is distinctly American, in the best possible sense.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that if the US were to willingly give up its lead in crewed spaceflight, it would probably be seen as somewhat strange, and a symptom of some unrevealed weakness. I certainly can't see any respect being gained from it.