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Space Shuttle Main Engine Margin Improvement Program

Improvements to the SSMEs for increased margin and durability began with a formal Phase II program in 1983. Phase II focused on turbomachinery to extend the time between high-pressure turbopump overhauls by reducing the operating temperature in the high-pressure fuel turbopump and by incorporating margin improvements to the HPFT rotor dynamics (whirl), turbine blade and HPFT bearings. Phase II certification was completed in 1985, and all the changes have been incorporated into the SSMEs for the STS-26 mission.

In addition to the Phase II improvements, additional changes in the SSME have been incorporated to further extend the engines' margin and durability. The main changes were to the high-pressure turbomachinery, main combustion chamber, hydraulic actuators and high-pressure turbine discharge temperature sensors. Changes were also made in the controller software to improve engine control.

Minor high-pressure turbomachinery design changes resulted in margin improvements to the turbine blades, thereby extending the operating life of the turbopumps. These changes included applying surface texture to important parts of the fuel turbine blades to improve the material properties in the pressure of hydrogen and incorporating a damper into the high-pressure oxidizer turbine blades to reduce vibration.

Main combustion chamber life has been increased by plating a welded outlet manifold with nickel. Margin improvements have also been made to five hydraulic actuators to preclude a loss in redundancy on the launch pad. Improvements in quality have been incorporated into the servo-component coil design along with modifications to increase margin. To address a temperature sensor in-flight anomaly, the sensor has been redesigned and extensively tested without problems.

To certify the improvements to the SSMEs and demonstrate their reliability through margin (or limit testing), an aggressive ground test program was initiated in December 1986. From December 1986 to December 1987, 151 tests and 52,363 seconds of operation (equivalent to 100 shuttle missions) were performed. The SSMEs have exceeded 300,000 seconds total test time, the equivalent of 615 space shuttle missions. These hot-fire ground tests are performed at the single-engine test stands at the NASA National Space Technology Laboratories in Mississippi and at Rockwell International's Rocketdyne Division's Santa Susana Field Laboratory in California.


Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 04/07/2002
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