National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Glenn Research Center

B1B3 Home banner
Historic Facilities at NASA Glenn
Photograph of exterior of B-1 and B-3
B-1 and B-3 Test Stands
The High Energy Rocket Engine Research Facility (B-1) and Nuclear Rocket Dynamics and Control Facility (B-3) test stands were constructed at Glenn Research Center’s Plum Brook Station in the early 1960s to test full-scale liquid hydrogen fuel systems in simulated altitude conditions. Over the next decade each stand was used for two major series of liquid hydrogen rocket tests: the Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application (NERVA) nuclear rocket program and the Centaur second-stage rocket program. The different components of these rocket engines could be studied under flight conditions and adjusted without having to fire the engine. Once the studies were complete, the entire engine could be fired in larger facilities such as Spacecraft Propulsion Research Facility (B-2).
The US War Department operated its sprawling Plum Brook Ordnance Works near Sandusky, Ohio from 1941 to 1945. In September 1955, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) acquired 500 of the 9000 acres at the site to build a test reactor. During the 6 years that it took to build the reactor, it became apparent that additional facilities to test rocket engines and their components would be needed. The large unused tracts of land at Plum Brook were perfect for the dangerous fuels work. An additional 3000 acres were acquired from the Army to build the Pilot Lab and the multifacility Rocket Systems Laboratory, which would eventually include B-1 and B-3.
The Mark IX turbopump was studied extensively at B-1 and B-3 for the Kiwi phase of the NERVA program. B-1 tests demonstrated that the reactor could be started under its own power, and follow-up tests in B-3 established the proper startup procedure.
The second generation Centaur rocket, Centaur D, was also studied in both stands. B-1 tests of the fuel system led to a permanent redesign of the tank insulation. The tests were also an important early step in the eventual elimination of the boost pumps from the Centaur feed system. NASA researchers conducted a number of tests in B-3 leading up to the first Titan-Centaur launch and the Viking mission to Mars. Unlike the previous testing at the site, these focused on the protective shroud and not the turbopumps. The structural integrity and jettison system were verified in a cold space environment and tests led to a redesign of the insulation system.

Photograph of map showing Plum Brook’s location relative to Sandusky
Plum Brook Location Map
Plum Brook researchers inspect the Kiwi reactor at B-1
Kiwi Rector Engine
Lewis researchers inspect Pratt & Whitney RL-10 engine
Centaur's RL-10 Engine
Historic American Engineering Report
HAER Report
HAER Report
Historic American Engineering Report (HAER) documentation of the High Energy Rocket Engine Research Facility (B-1) and Nuclear Rocket Dynamics and Control Facility (B-3) to be submitted by the National Park Service to the Library of Congress. The report details the physical history of the site, event history of the facility, contemporary facilities, and architectural and operational descriptions of the facilities and their support buildings. Includes numerous photographs, blueprints, and drawings.
Complete HAER Report (PDF, 25.6MB)
B-1 and B-3 Overview (PDF, 338KB)
Exhibit Display
An exhibit display was created to highlight the some of the physical attributes and important tests at B-1 and B-3. Click the image below for a full-size version of this display panel.
Photograph of B-1/B-3 Exhibit Display