Roush and ULA Put Pistons to Work… IN SPACE
So, what happens when you get some of the best gearheads in the country and rocket scientists together in the same room? Well, it’s not Armageddon. You get a classic engine design that could be the key to lightening the load of a rocket. Roush-Yates, ULA, and the flathead inline-six coming together to try and get us further in space, or at least let us take more stuff.
ULA, the United Launch Alliance, has partnered up with Roush’s engine building department to try and help solve the problem of keeping too much liquid pressurant. It’s an issue that has plagued rocket science for decades and is the biggest part of the reason rockets end up so heavy in the first place.
While the idea of using an engine isn’t the first time ULA decided it was worth trying, they did it with a wankel rotary engine. They also found out just how finicky it was and decided it would be best to use something else with pistons. However, a modern engine is actually not the best candidate.
Here’s why: they are too good at getting rid of waste heat in the engine and keeping it away from the intake. However, a flathead is the perfect candidate and ULA explains:
“The “retro” design of the I6 is reminiscent of a classic Ford flathead V-8 design of the 1930s. These engines, while being incredibly tough, had a reputation for requiring oversized radiators since exhaust gas passages were close to block cooling passages and more heat than typical was transferred to the coolant. This heat rejection feature is much desired in the IVF engine since we wish to scavenge heat for tank pressurization. This allows us to eliminate the extraction of heat from the thrusters, a feature of earlier IVF designs, and keep all heat exchange functions within the engine. The engine head, which bridges the length of the engine, contains the heat exchange surfaces for rejecting heat to incoming hydrogen combustion gas, as well as vaporizing both liquid hydrogen and oxygen for tank pressurization.”
See, the old flathead wasn’t a bad design at all, we just needed to get it into space.