back to article NASA busts booster booster

An RL-10 rocket booster – the kind that just lifted the Martian Space Laboratory on its trip to the Red Planet – has been confiscated by NASA after being offered for sale on the Internet. New Scientist says NASA’s Office of Inspector General has revealed the confiscation in its semi-annual report. The Pratt and Whitney engine …


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  1. Oninoshiko

    worth 200,000USD, but what did it SELL for (at auction)?

  2. JeffyPooh

    I wonder...

    Does NASA need to have an "export license" for these sorts of rocket motors when they're exported ^h^h^h^h^h^h^h^h launched into space?

    Don't laugh. Apparently they reclaimed import duties after launching ^h^h^h^h^h^h^h^h^h re-exporting a special optical window made of something expensive like sapphire.

    1. Ru

      Of course not.

      Space is clearly the domain of the US. They can do whatever they like up there.

    2. TimeMaster T


      IIRC it was a 60-70 carat (12-13g) perfect diamond used in one of the Venus landers, diamond being the only material with the right combination of optical/strength/corrosion resistance characteristics for a camera lens or such.

      NASA had to pay import fees amounting to 44 percent of its cost when they imported it from SA, but the fee was refunded when NASA signed a statement that the diamond would not be resold after it was sent to Venus.

      Can't find much about it on the web since its one of those little "pre-internet" side notes in space exploration.

  3. Graham Marsden

    "Wanna buy a RL-10 rocket booster, Guv?

    "One careful owner, fell off the back of an Atlas launcher if you know what I mean..."

    But seriously, WTF??? How does one of these "go missing" and end up on eBay? It's not as if you can hide it under your coat when you leave work!!

    PS And who the hell would be searching on eBay for one of these, let alone bidding on it anyway?

    1. LaeMing
      Black Helicopters

      Maybe NASA sold it

      knowing they could then turn around and reclaim it, claim no knowledge and keep the money.

      Space ain't cheap, and it works for the MPAA/RIAA

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "How does one of these "go missing" and end up on eBay? It's not as if you can hide it under your coat when you leave work!!"

      They must have taken it out in a big lunch box, like Johnny Cash.

      1. Peter Gordon

        NASA smuggled Johnny Cash inside a lunch box?!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: NASA smuggled Johnny Cash inside a lunch box?!

          Charge: sloppy grammar

          Plea: guilty m'lud

    3. JC 2

      @ "Wanna buy a RL-10 rocket booster, Guv?

      I for one would put down bid on a penny auction with no reserve. Who knows when you might just decide it's time to really piss off the neighbors at 3AM.

  4. Gary F

    But it's 50 year old tech!

    I think every country in the world has seen schematics of this old beast. They've had half a century to send in spies, honeytrap engineers and managers, buy blueprints and parts on the black market, pay-off employees and contractors...

    Do they think some crazy person is going to use this part and strap a dirty bomb to it and launch it towards a populated area? I wouldn't worry about that unless it's known that ebay has recently sold a 40ft long metal cylinder, a large supply of chemicals, a guidance system, a DIY self-assembly launch pad, and who knows what other parts are needed.

    1. TeeCee Gold badge

      There are much more modern engines around, which would be what you'd want to look at if you were interested in nicking the technology. The oxygen-rich, closed-cycle, RD-180 engine at the bottom end of yer Atlas these days is a good example and vastly superior all round.

      But those are Russian engines of course and not subject to US restrictions on trade. Best way to get your paws on that tech is probably to, er, go and buy one. Maybe the Russian space programme ought to open an eBay store?

    2. Danny 14


      " I wouldn't worry about that unless it's known that ebay has recently sold a 40ft long metal cylinder, a large supply of chemicals, a guidance system, a DIY self-assembly launch pad, and who knows what other parts are needed."

      Have you been on ebay recently? It sells fair weirder shit than that.

    3. Matt_payne666

      one DIY launch pad....

    4. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Most of rocketry is 50 year old tech

      Show me something radically new that has been done in liquid fuel rocketry since the days of Von Brown and Korolev. Do not think so. If there was we would have been using it instead of relying on the Soyuz :)

  5. AndrewG

    There are sooo many things to be upset about in this article

    First off.... NASA's not wanting booster tech to get out into the world.... NASA doesn't actually build things..Lockheed builds things, NASA's just acting as a government schill for their corporate owners and justifying their continued existence as the primary agency responsible for stopping anyone else from having a space capability and nobbling private companies with withdrawn contracts when they can't stop them legally.

    Secondly. 1960's technology, No doubt theres been updates but if a 1960's engine still has secret bits they haven't really been busting a gut trying to improve the things have they? And as has been said, unless someone happens to have 300 cubic feet of liquid oxygen and hydrogen handy, they won't be getting far with launching it.

    NASA and big Aerospace just seem more and more like a for-profit conglomerate trying to keep a monopoly by doing as little as they possibly can while going slow on solutions.

  6. Al42

    (Rocket Launch Icon) OOPS...

    It's a bit of a blow to the Register Secret ^H^H^H^H Special Project Team

    How's the bid on The Spare Branson Balloon Going ???

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    E.T. go home...


  8. hplasm
    Thumb Up

    Oo- rocket motor!

    Now I want one

  9. Sir Adam-All

    how about ...

    An El Reg "weird ebay shit for sale" thread ???

  10. Scott Broukell

    Don't be so hard on the guy ....

    .. this was obviously an attempt to boost the economy.

  11. Shagbag

    What would've happened if the sale was not advertised on eBay?

  12. Evil Auditor Silver badge

    If this was a picture of a modern motor...

    I'd never use the phrase 'this ain't rocket since' again. Heck, my car's injection system looks more sophisticated!

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Rocket Science...

      Everybody knows it's easy anyway. They don't even use Relativity.

    2. Francis Vaughan

      The difference being that the fuel pump on even a 50 year old RL-10 is driven by a turbine that generates 500kw. So just the fuel system has more power than any car you can ever dream of owning. And the entire rocket motor weights 140kg, so less than your car's engine. When things are are crazy as this you don't want complexity. You want every last possible thing that might go wrong removed. The sophistication is in the simplicity.

      1. laird cummings

        Supreme excellence in engineering...

        ...lies not in when you've nothing left to add, but rather when you've nothing left to take away.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Darwin awards the loser

    Some knobend was probably going to bolt it to the back of his pickup truck anyway...

    1. Goobertee


      You beat me to the Darwin Awards line...

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    no need to screw over the buyer

    follow the money. Banks do it millions of times per second. They know who, what and where-they HAVE to or they'd lose control of it.

    You could easily trace who received payment for the thing.

    But not as easily as screwing over the honest folk.

    which is how the Entitlement-Governmental Complex does things these days.

  15. Stevie


    At the risk of being cuffed and stuffed for wanting "in" on Top Secret Stuff, does anyone know why that big pipe goes for a trip around about 1/3 of the upper exhaust bell?

    I had a car once that relied on the gasoline passing through the fuel pump to keep it cool (and woe to he who suffered vapor lock when it didn't). Does this engine use the cryogenic fuel to cool the bell for some reason, and if so, why only one side?

    Not a spy, just love real science.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    What i would like to know

    is, can i shoehorn one into my Mondeo????

  17. B_K

    15 k thrust?

    I am surprised the thrust is less than an Olympus engine, as fitted to the Vulcan bomber?

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I heard before...

    ...engines for several military aircraft being on auction, like the engines for a Phantom II. Except they are not designed to fit many different models of aircraft, if you catch my drift. Eventually the entire plane is on auction too.

    But those folks going for the land record love when that happens. One of them bought the entire airplane with said engines (this time not a Phantom), removed the wings, and changed the landing gear. Presto, a land record contender.

    And most of these boat races use(d) WWII engines from P-51 mustangs and other later models. So I heard.

    The next stage is this, a sub-orbital-rocket-booster-whatever-rocks-you-past-mach-10.

  19. alyn

    It ain't rocket science

    Oh - sorry, it is.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Has anyone checked Lester's expense claims of late? You never know in amongst the receipts for beer, donkey food, more beer and Playmobil, he might have slipped in one for a Saturn V.

  21. Shades

    What surprises me... the plumbing is a lot smaller than the bell-end, and that you get so much thrust from something so small.

    Yeah, yeah... Thats what she said! ;)

  22. Marty McFly Silver badge


    No doubt this mis-placed 1960's kit has already been analyzed by the Russians - either this unit or one just like it. There are no secrets here, although NASA would like us all to believe there are.

    What does NASA do for heavy lift rockets right now?? Oh, that's right. NASA pays the Russians to launch it.

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