Designed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, the Fastrac is intended to demonstrate lower cost in a reusable simple turbopump rocket engine. Each Fastrac engine will initially cost approximately $1.2 million - about one-fifth of the cost of similar engines. That price is hoped to drop even more within a few years to $350,000 per engine. Fastrac incorporates drastic reductions in the cost of turbomachinery. Initially, each turbopump will cost about $300,000 - one-tenth of the average cost of a current rocket engine turbopump. That cost also is expected to drop to about $90,000.
The engine is started with a hypergolic igniter and uses a gas generator cycle. Chamber pressure is supplied by a single turbopump. The only electronics required to operate the engine are the launch vehicle's computer, which only sends commands to open and close valves. The thrust and mixture ratio are set during ground calibration.
Regenerative cooling is not used, eliminating hundreds of metres of tediously welded tubing. Instead ablative cooling is provided by layers of silica-phenolic composite material as a liner inside the chamber. The ablative chamber nozzle and the hypergolic ignition cartridge will be replaced after each flight, but the rest of the engine is reusable.
The first vehicle to be powered by the Fastrac engine is the X-34, a technology testbed vehicle. The engine was scheduled for delivery to the X-34 program in mid-1999 and its first flight in scheduled for late-1999 or early-2000. In August 1998 the Marshall Center shipped the first complete engine system to NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi to conduct 85 hot firings. The Fastrac engine was designed at Marshall and built by major subcontractors Summa Technology (gas generator, propellant lines, ducts and brackets); Allied Signal and Marotta Scientific (valves); Barber-Nichols (turbopump); and Thiokol (ablative chamber nozzle).