National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Glenn Research Center

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Design and Construction (1960 - 1965)
Drawing showing facilities at Plum Brook Rocket Systems Laboratory
Rocket Systems Lab
The NASA Lewis Research Center expanded its property at Plum Brook Station in the late 1950s and early 1960s to accommodate its increasing array of rocket test facilities. Most of the facilities were geared to liquid hydrogen research for the NERVA and Centaur engines. The B-1 and B-3 test stands were built in the early 1960s to study the propellant flow systems for both of these liquid hydrogen-fueled engines. After making a number of contributions to the NERVA and Centaur programs, Plum Brook was shut down in 1973. Although Plum Brook Station reopened in the 1980s, the B-1 and B-3 test stands were never restored.
Plum Brook Station
Photograph of NASA Lewis researcher studying liquid hydrogen for nuclear rocket
Liquid Hydrogen Research
The Glenn Research Center was established (as the Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory) in 1941 by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in Cleveland, Ohio. It was the NACA’s third research laboratory and the only one dedicated to propulsion. The lab quickly became involved in the new types of propulsion that emerged during World War II—the turbojet, ramjet, and rocket. Researchers in the rocket field concentrated on the study of fuels or propellants. The rocket work grew in the 1950s, and liquid hydrogen came to be regarded as the optimal propellant. The lab also began expanding its research into nuclear and electric propulsion during this period.
Five hundred acres at Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio were acquired in 1955 to build a test reactor. With the advent of the space program in 1958, the NACA became the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The new agency acquired 3000 additional acres at Plum Brook to build a series of rocket test facilities known as the Rocket Systems Laboratory. This site would eventually include B-1 and B-3. In the fall of 1959 NASA requested the use of another 3500 acres to build what would be the Spacecraft Propulsion Research Facility (B-2) and the Space Power Facility (SPF).

Researcher views rocket firing in Rocket Laboratory test cell
Lewis Research Rocket
Photograph of Sandusky with portion of Plum Brook below
Plum Brook Aerial
Photograph of interior of E Stand
Interior of E Stand
B-1 Construction
Photograph of crane lifting section of steam ejector into place
Ejector Construction
NASA engineers developed the design for the B-1 test stand during 1959. Excavations for the foundation began in early 1960, and the test stand structure is visible in photographs from later that year. In April 1961 the massive 140-ton steam accumulators arrived by rail from New Jersey. The accumulators were a key component of the steam system that produced the test stand’s simulated altitudes.
In the summer of 1961, NASA Lewis management decided to alter the B-1 design specifically to handle turbopump testing of a NERVA nuclear engine. By July 1962 the design work was mostly completed and the contracts were let, but several months passed before the steam exhaust system functioned properly. The summer and fall were spent integrating the NERVA engine and its instrumentation into the test stand and various test runs were conducted through the end of the year. Tests of the liquid hydrogen system took place throughout the winter and spring of 1964, but the first official test runs were in August 1964.

Photograph of exterior of B-1 test stand during construction
B-1 Construction
Photograph of empty racks in B-1 control room during construction
B-1 Control Room
Photograph of dark smoke plume rising from ditch in front of B-1 stand
Fuel Burnoff
B-3 Construction
Photograph of steelwork being erected for B-3
B-3 Construction
Lewis engineers likely began planning the B-3 Test Stand, along with other new facilities, shortly after President Kennedy’s famous “Urgent National Needs” speech in late May 1961. Kennedy not only called for the lunar landings, but also advocated an increased nuclear rocket program. B-3 and the other new facilities were in a budget approved by the President in January 1962 and by Congress that September.
Excavations for the B-3 test stand and its infrastructure began in mid-March 1963, structural supports and the concrete foundation were set in early May, and the steel framework was assembled between July and September 1963. The structure itself was complete in mid-November 1963, but the next year and a half were spent installing the other infrastructure and support systems. The test stand was tied into B-1’s steam ejector system and the multi-facility B Control and Data Building. This phase was complete by April 1965. The next year was spent installing the NERVA test equipment and running facility checkout tests. The first official test was in March 1966.

Photograph showing the foundation for B-3 being laid
Photograph of workers creating the addition to B Control Building
B Control Addition
Photograph of almost-complete B-3 steel framework
B-3 Framework