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The F-1 Engine Powered Apollo Into History, Blazes Path for Space Launch System Advanced Propulsion
March 20, 2013

The test laboratory of the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) tested the F1 engine. The test laboratory of the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) tested the F-1 engine, the most powerful rocket engine ever fired at MSFC. (NASA/MSFC)

Test firing of all five F1 engines for the Saturn V SIC test stage at the Marshall Space Flight Center Test firing of all five F-1 engines for the Saturn V S-IC test stage at the Marshall Space Flight Center. (NASA/MSFC)

F1 engines being stored in the F1 Engine Preparation Shop at MSFC. F-1 engines being stored in the F-1 Engine Preparation Shop. (NASA/MSFC)

A close-up view of the F1 Engine for the Saturn V SIC A close-up view of the F-1 Engine for the Saturn V S-IC. (NASA/MSFC)
Saturn V Engines Recovered in Atlantic

Some of the powerful engines that sent the first humans to the moon have been recovered from the sea. Jeff Bezos, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of the aerospace company Blue Origin and Amazon.com, announced on Wednesday, March 20, that his expedition has recovered two of the Saturn V's first-stage engines from the Atlantic Ocean.

The F-1 engine - the most powerful single-nozzle, liquid-fueled rocket engine ever developed - boosted the Saturn V rocket off the launch pad and on to the moon during NASA's Apollo program during the 1960s and 1970s. NASA is again looking at the large gas generator cycle engine to help develop the nation's next heavy-lift launch vehicle the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

Related: Engineers Resurrect and Test Mighty F-1 Engine Gas Generator

Five F-1 engines were used in the 138-foot-tall S-IC, or first stage, of each Saturn V, which depended on the five-engine cluster for the 7.5 million pounds of thrust needed to lift it from the launch pad. Each mighty engine stands 19 feet tall by 12 feet wide and weigh over 18,000 pounds. The F-1 was developed by engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and its industry team.

The cluster of five F-1 engines burned a mixture of liquid oxygen and kerosene fuel at more than 15 metric tons per second during its two-and-one-half-minutes of operation. Each F-1 engine had more thrust than three space shuttle main engines combined to lift the vehicle to a height of about 36 miles and to a speed of about 6,000 mph.

The F-1 engine had roots outside NASA, born as an Air Force program developed by the aerospace firm Rocketdyne in 1955. NASA inherited it during a transfer of projects, conducted its own feasibility studies and awarded Rocketdyne a follow-on contract to step up work on the gargantuan propulsion system not long after NASA's formation, in 1960.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden released a statement congratulating Bezos and his team on the recovery: "Nearly one year ago, Jeff Bezos shared with us his plans to recover F-1 engines that helped power Apollo astronauts to the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s. We share the excitement expressed by Jeff and his team in announcing the recovery of two of the powerful Saturn V first-stage engines from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

"This is a historic find and I congratulate the team for its determination and perseverance in the recovery of these important artifacts of our first efforts to send humans beyond Earth orbit.

"We look forward to the restoration of these engines by the Bezos team and applaud Jeff's desire to make these historic artifacts available for public display.

"Jeff and his colleagues at Blue Origin are helping to usher in a new commercial era of space exploration and we are confident that our continued collaboration will soon result in private human access to space, creating jobs and driving America's leadership in innovation and exploration."

The decision to develop an engine capable of lofting large orbital payloads into space was bolstered by Russian successes in that arena and also by U.S. plans for circumlunar missions, or missions around the moon and human excursions to the moon.

The development of the F-1 was a major step forward in rocket engine technology - a major design advancement.

The heart of the engine was the thrust chamber, which mixed and burned the fuel and oxidizer to produce thrust. A domed chamber at the top of the engine supplied liquid oxygen to the injectors, and also served as a mount for the gimbal bearing which transmitted the thrust to the body of the rocket. Below this dome were the injectors, which directed fuel and oxidizer into the thrust chamber for mixing and combustion.

Fuel was supplied to the injectors from a separate manifold; some of the fuel first travelled in 178 tubes down the length of the thrust chamber - which formed approximately the upper half of the exhaust nozzle - and back in order to cool the nozzle.

The mighty F-1 remains the most powerful American liquid-fuel rocket engine ever developed. The F-1 still holds the record as the largest single-chamber, single-nozzle liquid fuel engine ever flown.

The larger, evolved SLS vehicle will require more thrust than any existing U.S. liquid- or solid-fueled booster. The F-1 engine's impressive lift performance makes a modernized and simplified version of the original Apollo-era rocket engine a logical candidate for NASA's SLS advanced booster. NASA is working with Dynetics Inc. and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (hyperlink to news release: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2013/feb/HQ_13-054_Aerojet_SLS_Boosters....) to explore modern manufacturing techniques that would enable enhanced F-1 affordability and performance while maintaining the excellent safety and reliability of the engine system.

For images and more information about the F-1 engine, visit:


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Page Last Updated: July 28th, 2013
Page Editor: NASA Administrator