ENGINE TEST STAND
Over the years Starchaser has made various forms of test stands.
From small structures such as that used to successfully calibrate the new Starchaser 3a ignition system in Altcar firing range, Formby, (and later used to launch Tempest as a flight qualification) to those used at the HSL laboratories in Buxton for our various rocket engine systems that have been tested there: Newton (hybrid rocket engine) Churchill Mk 1 and Mk 2 (bi-liquid rocket engines).
They have all been horizontal test rigs to keep the size of the test stand down, and to minimise heavy lifting and significant structural work.
However with something as important and large scale as Skybolt, we couldn't ignore the fact that the engine required a vertical test.
During our negotiations with the State of New Mexico we designed several variants of the test stand that has now been built for the STORM engine.
All had slightly different designs due to requests made by the Southwest Regional Spaceport (SRS) which we were trying to fulfil to be able to test in America, but the basic theme was a vertical test rig, something we have not yet attempted, but are confident we need to be able to prepare firstly the engine, and finally the entire rocket for launch into space.
After SRS failed to be able to deliver on time we had to re-organise our plans for the launch of SKYBOLT, and the next most obvious place to do such a series of test firings was Spadeadam, now an RAF base in Cumbria, located on the site where the Blue Streak Missile was developed.
The concrete structures still remain intact, and are perfectly sized and placed for engine tests, located far from any local population that could be disturbed by the noise, and within controlled areas that are clear of any wandering public.
It did not take very long to re-design the test stand, and construction is already nearing completion. The basic concept is simple, have some universal beams and large box section forming a 'shelf' strong enough to handle all the heavy loading that the engine will cause on the structure, which will hang over the test stand area (about a 12 metre drop) and to have a caged area around the engine to enable Starchaser personnel to have access to the engine whilst it is being prepared for tests.
The engine is mounted on a separate section that houses the load-cells (that measure the thrust) and which can be un-bolted and removed away from the vertical drip so the injector plate and o-rings can be cleaned / replaced between test firings.
We are making use of the new tables which we took to New Mexico for the 'Countdown to the X Prize Cup' event, which will lift our current propellant tanks to a higher level over the new stand and make plumbing easier but also give a little more head pressure.
There will also be a temporary blast deflector fitted underneath the engine to deflect any residual flame / heat away from the old concrete, which is now classed as a listed building and we are trying to protect from any damage.
If all goes to plan we should have the engine tested by mid-spring and then we will focus on the SKYBOLT airframe itself in preparation for a full rocket stack test, in which the rocket will be set-up as it will fly and test fired for a final calibration for launch, which will no-doubt require another test rig to be designed, and may even be integrated into this one, so there's plenty of more engineering to come!