A Centaur second-stage rocket in the Space Propulsion Research Facility, better known as B‒2, operating at NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio. Centaur was designed to be used with an Atlas booster to send the Surveyor spacecraft to the moon in the mid-1960s. After those missions, the rocket was modified to launch a series of astronomical observation satellites into orbit and send space probes to other planets.
Researchers conducted a series of systems tests at the Plum Brook test stands to improve the Centaur fuel pumping system. Follow up full-scale tests in the B-2 facility led to the eventual removal of the boost pumps from the design. This reduced the system’s complexity and significantly reduced the cost of a Centaur rocket. The Centaur tests were the first use of the new B-2 facility.
B‒2 was the world's only high altitude test facility capable of full-scale rocket engine and launch vehicle system level tests. It was created to test rocket propulsion systems with up to 100,000 pounds of thrust in a simulated space environment. The facility has the unique ability to maintain a vacuum at the rocket’s nozzle while the engine is firing. The rocket fires into a 120-foot deep spray chamber which cools the exhaust before it is ejected outside the facility. B‒2 simulated space using giant diffusion pumps to reduce chamber pressure 10-6 torr, nitrogen-filled cold walls create cryogenic temperatures, and quartz lamps replicate the radiation of the sun.