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. :)


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