Fastrac (rocket engine)

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Fastrac was a turbo pump-fed, liquid rocket engine. The engine was designed by NASA as part of the low cost X-34 Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV)[5] and as part of the Low Cost Booster Technology (LCBT, aka Bantam) project.[6] This engine was later known as the MC-1 engine when it was merged into the X-34 project.

Fastrac MC-1
Country of originUnited States
Applicationsmall, cheap, expendable rockets
Liquid-fuel engine
PropellantLOX / RP-1 (rocket grade kerosene)
Thrust (vac.)60,000 lbf (270 kN)[1]
Isp (vac.)314 s (3.0 km/s)[2]
Length2.13 m (7 ft 0 in)[3]
Diameter1.22 m (4 ft 0 in)[3]
Dry weightless than 910 kg (2,010 lb)[4]


The turbopump engine was designed to be used in an expendable booster in the LCBT project. As a result this led to the use of composite materials because of their significantly lower costs and production speed; this also reduced engine complexity since the fuel was not used for nozzle cooling. Based on knowledge and experience from the Space Shuttle's Reuseable Solid Rocket Motor (RSRM) and the Solid Propulsion Integrity Program (SPIP),[7] a Silica/phenolic material was chosen for the ablative liner with carbon/epoxy structural overlap.

The engine fuel was a mixture of liquid oxygen and kerosene (RP-1). These propellants are used by Saturn F1 rocket engine. Kerosene does not have the same energy release as hydrogen, used with the Space Shuttle, but it is cheaper and easier to handle and store. Propellants were fed via a single shaft, dual impeller LOX/RP-1 turbo-pump.[8]

The engine was started with a hypergolic igniter to maintain a simple design. Kerosene was injected and the engine was then running. The propellants were then fed into the gas generator for mixing and thrust chamber for burning.

The engine uses a gas generator cycle to drive the turbo-pump turbine, which then exhausts this small amount of spent fuel. This is the identical cycle used with the Saturn rockets, but much less complex than the Space Shuttle engine system.

The engine used an inexpensive, expendable, ablatively cooled carbon fiber composite nozzle and produced 60,000 lbf (285 kN) of thrust. After use nearly all of the engine's parts are reusable.[9]

During the research phase in 1999 each Fastrac engine was costed at approximately $1.2 million.[10] Production costs were expected to drop to $350,000 per engine.


Engine system level testing started in 1999 at the Stennis Space Center.[11] Earlier tests were on individual components at the Marshall Space Flight Center. NASA started full-engine, hot-fire testing in March, 1999, with a 20 second test to demonstrate the complete engine system.[12] The engine was tested at full power for 155 seconds on July 1, 1999.[13] A total of 85 tests were scheduled for the rest of 1999. As of 2000, 48 tests had been conducted on three engines using three test stands.[14]

The first engine was installed on the X-34 A1 vehicle that was unveiled at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center on April 30, 1999.[15]

The Fastrac program was cancelled in 2001.[16] After FASTRAC, NASA tried to salvage this design for use in other rockets such as Rotary Rocket's Roton and Orbital's X-34 project. The designation of the rocket engine was changed from the Fastrac 60K to Marshall Centre - 1 (MC-1). The MC-1 project was closed by July, 2009, after the X-34 project was terminated in March, 2009.[17]

The engine never flew, but with NASA's cooperation much of the MC-1 design and technology was adopted by SpaceX for its Merlin 1A engine.[18]


NASA collaborated with industry partners to meet the principle objective to use commercial, off-the-shelf components. Industry partners included Summa Technology Inc., Allied Signal Inc., Marotta Scientific Controls Inc., Barber-Nichols Inc., and Thiokol Propulsion.


The basic principles of the Fastrac design (namely, a pintle injector and ablatively cooled chamber) lived on in SpaceX's Merlin 1A engine, which used a turbopump from the same subcontractor.[18] The Merlin-1A was somewhat larger with a thrust of 77,000 lbf (340 kN) versus 60,000 lbf (270 kN) for Fastrac. The same basic design was capable of much higher thrust levels after upgrading the turbopump. Variants of the Merlin-1D achieve 190,000 lbf (850 kN) of thrust as of May, 2018,[19] though the combustion chamber is now regeneratively cooled.[20]


  • Vacuum thrust: 60,000 lbf (270 kN)
  • Vacuum specific impulse: 314 s (3.0 kN·s/kg)
  • Chamber pressure: 633 psi [21]
  • Total mass flow: 91.90 kg/s
  • Gas generator pressure: 39.64 bar
  • Gas generator temperature: 888.89 K
  • Throat diameter: 0.22 m
  • Fuel: RP-1 (rocket grade kerosene)
  • Oxidizer: Liquid oxygen

See alsoEdit


  This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

  1. ^ "Rocket Engine Turbopumps" (PDF). Barber Nicols. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  2. ^ Systems Analysis of a High Thrust Low-Cost Rocket Engine (PDF), archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-04, retrieved 2012-03-31
  3. ^ a b "Encyclopedia Astronautica Index: 1".
  4. ^ " - is for sale (Nasa Solutions)".
  5. ^ 40K Fastrac II Bantam Test, archived from the original on 2015-07-21, retrieved 2015-01-11
  6. ^ "Fabrication of Composite Combustion Chamber/Nozzle For Fastrac Engine" (PDF). Retrieved September 6, 2019.
  7. ^ "Solid Propulsion Integrity Program for Verifiable Enhanced Solid Rocket Motor Reliablility". Retrieved September 6, 2019.
  8. ^ "Rocket Engine Turbopumps". Retrieved September 6, 2019.
  9. ^ "Fastrac Engine -- A Boost for Low-cost Space Launch".
  10. ^ {cite web | url= | accessdate=September 6, 2019 | title= Fastrac}}
  11. ^ "NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS) - NASA Fastrac Engine Gas Generator Component Test Program and Results".
  12. ^ "Fastrac Full-Engine, Hot-Fire Test Successful". Retrieved 6 September 2019.
  13. ^ "X-34 Fastrac Engine Tested". Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  14. ^ Development Status of the NASA MC-1 (Fastrac) Engine (PDF)
  15. ^ "Rocket Engine Turbopumps". Retrieved September 6, 2019.
  16. ^ 40K Fastrac II Bantam Test, archived from the original on 2015-07-21, retrieved 2015-01-11
  17. ^ "Marshall Center-1 (MC-1) Test Program". Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  18. ^ a b "Rocket Engine Turbopumps | Barber Nichols".
  19. ^ Berger, Eric [@SciGuySpace] (10 May 2018). "Musk: Merlin rocket engine thrust increased by 8 percent, to 190,000 lbf" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  20. ^ SpaceX CASSIOPE Mission Press Kit (Sept 2013) pg. 10 (PDF)
  21. ^ "A Regeneratively-Cooled Thrust Chamber for the FASTRAC Engine" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-07-24.
  • Ballard, R.O.; Olive, T.: Development Status of the NASA MC-1 (Fastrac) Engine; AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference and Exhibit, 2000 Huntsville, AL, AIAA 2000-3898

External linksEdit