We recently caught up with former Haskel engineer and space engineer, John McNeil to talk about the strides Haskel has made in commercial space flight equipment. McNeil, who was part of the Haskel H-Drive design team, shares his insights from what makes the company such a key player in those applications.
Haskel has been known as an innovator in high-pressure solutions since it was founded over 70 years ago. Though their latest hydraulic driven gas booster was designed with dozens of applications in mind, one of the six models developed by Haskel engineers includes properties specifically beneficial to the field of commercial space flight.
As we developed the H-drive, our team examined a wide array of market data and designed this gas booster to allow engineers in the commercial space industry to push their equipment further than they ever had before. The booster was designed with greater capabilities in pressure and flow rate with best-in-class reliability. Haskel’s history in the product line gave us access to five decades of data which we analyzed to understand what factors affected seal life, reliability, and the customer experience. In the end, we didn’t do anything new so much as we combined the best elements of history to make a product that’s in all ways better than its predecessors. These advancements have far reaching implications for all applications, but some that are particularly in space flight.
Haskel's hydraulically driven H-Drive was designed to be used in the ground support equipment that charges gas reservoirs used to fill commercial rockets. The high-pressure helium and nitrogen systems in commercial space flight are a small component relative to the half million pounds of fuel and liquid oxygen being pumped on to the rocket, but the launch can’t happen without them. These gases drive flight-critical actuators and prevent accumulation of flammable vapors in the tank.
The gas being carried by commercial rockets is maintained at an extremely high pressure, sometimes as high as 5000 psi. The combination of high pressures and pump reliability are critical to space flight in order to meet the tight timelines and delicate budgets of the industry – each launch attempt can cost millions of dollars. Everything must work right at launch time. An abort of the launch process incurs expensive reset costs and can delay months of operations. Today’s commercial space companies launch when the rocket is ready and the orbital window is open. A delayed launch means lost revenue as the rocket sits on the pad for days or weeks waiting for the next window while the next rocket waits in the hangar. This means that the higher pressures possible with Haskel’s hydraulic-driven equipment improve performance while also ensuring the reliability that the industry counts on.
In addition to its reliability, the Haskel H-Drive was also designed to offer maintenance savings in both cost and time. It is cheaper and easier to conduct scheduled maintenance on this hydraulic pump, keeping budgets lower and making it far more likely that maintenance is performed. Proper maintenance is critical to the hydraulic pump’s performance, but this critical step is more likely to be skipped if the maintenance is time consuming or costly. With Haskel’s design neither is an issue – a benefit to almost every application it is designed for, including commercial space flight.
Those of us who designed the H-Drive take pride in knowing that our hydraulic gas booster delivered new capabilities to the engineers in commercial space flight. It was exciting to provide the “real innovators” as I call them with a higher pressure gas compression system that was reliable and economical enough to allow for greater innovation. There is risk in innovation and commercialization of a new concept is never guaranteed. Haskel’s open mindedness and dedication to problem solving really allowed us to make this project a success.
Beyond the role that the H-Drive has already played in commercial space flight, it is also having an impact in the hydrogen market. Hydrogen refueling stations were a particular focus for the Haskel design team. I’ve been thrilled to see the role the H-Drive is already playing in the growing hydrogen industry.