NASA Tests New Breed of Propulsion Engine

Jan 31, 2006

NASA engineers have successfully tested a new breed of reaction control engine and propulsion system. Aimed at furthering NASA's space exploration goals, the tests helped investigate the possibility of future space travel fueled by non-toxic propellants.

The Reaction Control Engine and the Auxiliary Propulsion System Test Bed were tested in January at NASA's White Sands Test Facility near Las Cruces, N.M. The engine, a prototype thruster used for maneuvering a vehicle in space, was designed and developed by Aerojet of Sacramento, Calif., in cooperation with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The Reaction Control Engine is unique in its use of non-toxic propellants -- liquid oxygen and ethanol, or alcohol made out of corn. Environmentally friendly, inexpensive and easily vaporized, the propellants have the potential to create a safer work environment for ground operators, lower costs and increase efficiency. Other significant potential benefits include lower maintenance and quicker turn-around between missions.

The Auxiliary Propulsion System test bed simulates the tanks, propellant feed lines and other components of an integrated spacecraft propulsion system. The system includes integration of three Aerojet Reaction Control Engines, plus three engine simulators.

The recent tests were performed in a vacuum chamber to simulate the space environment.

The test bed was first tested by flowing propellants through the system without igniting the engines, also called cold flow testing, to verify components and subsystems. Engineers then conducted a series of hot-fire tests on the system's three Reaction Control Engines.

The engines were tested individually to ensure each one operated properly with the Auxiliary Propulsion System's propellant feed system and results were similar to those obtained during Aerojet’s original open-air testing. The three engines also were tested in various combinations with each other under differing propellant temperature and pressure conditions, similar to operations experienced during an actual mission in space.

The series included pulse mode and steady-state testing. In pulse mode, the engines are repeatedly fired and turned off at varying intervals. Steady-state testing allows the engines to fire and burn continuously for a specified period of time.

Data obtained from the engine and system tests will advance auxiliary propulsion system design and modeling for future flight demonstrators.

NASA's Auxiliary Propulsion Project is an advanced development effort aimed at furthering the state-of-the-art in orbital maneuvering and reaction control systems for spacecraft propulsion, using non-toxic propellants. The project is aimed at eliminating environmental and toxicity hazards of some current propellant combinations, and could result in future vehicles that consolidate system and subsystem components, such as tanks and plumbing, thus reducing weight.

The project is led by the Marshall Center, with the Johnson Space Center providing support for the design, fabrication and operation of the Auxiliary Propulsion System Test Bed at White Sands, a Johnson facility.

Source: NASA

Explore further: NASA spacecraft prepares for March 12 launch to study earth's dynamic magnetic space environment

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Korean tech start-ups offer life beyond Samsung

23 hours ago

As an engineering major at Seoul's Yonsei University, Yoon Ja-Young was perfectly poised to follow the secure, lucrative and socially prized career path long-favoured by South Korea's elite graduates.

NASA satellite sees a warm winter in the Western US

8 hours ago

While people in the eastern two-thirds of the U.S have been dealing with Arctic Air, the bulge in the Jet Stream over the eastern Pacific Ocean has been keeping the western third of the U.S. in warmer than ...

Recommended for you

Stars found forming at Milky Way's outer edge

5 hours ago

Brazilian astronomers said Friday they had found two star clusters forming in a remote part of our Milky Way galaxy where such a thing was previously thought impossible.

'Bright spot' on Ceres has dimmer companion

14 hours ago

Dwarf planet Ceres continues to puzzle scientists as NASA's Dawn spacecraft gets closer to being captured into orbit around the object. The latest images from Dawn, taken nearly 29,000 miles (46,000 kilometers) ...

New insight found in black hole collisions

20 hours ago

New research by an astrophysicist at The University of Texas at Dallas provides revelations about the most energetic event in the universe—the merging of two spinning, orbiting black holes into a much larger ...

Looking deeply into the universe in 3-D

20 hours ago

The MUSE instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope has given astronomers the best ever three-dimensional view of the deep Universe. After staring at the Hubble Deep Field South region for only 27 hours, the ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.