NASA Tests Engine Technology for Landing Astronauts on the Moon

Jan 14, 2009
The Common Extensible Cryogenic Engine, or CECE, is fueled by a mixture of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen chilled to sub-zero temperatures. Image Credit: Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne

(PhysOrg.com) -- A technology development engine that may help NASA safely return astronauts to the lunar surface has successfully completed its third round of testing. The goal of these tests is to reduce risk and advance technology for a reliable and robust rocket engine that could enable America's next moon landing.

The tests by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in West Palm Beach, Fla., helped gather data on this concept engine that might play a role in the next stage of human exploration of the moon. Most rockets make spacecraft travel faster. The goal of a lunar lander descent engine is to slow the vehicle so astronauts can land safely.

The Common Extensible Cryogenic Engine, or CECE, is a deep-throttling engine, which means it has the flexibility to reduce thrust from 100 percent down to 10 percent -- allowing a spacecraft to gently land on the lunar surface. The 13,800-pound thrust engine uses extremely cold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen as propellants.

During the test, the engine was successfully throttled from a high of a 104 percent of the engine's potential down to eight percent, a record for an engine of this type. A cryogenic engine is needed to provide high performance and put more payload on the surface of the moon. The CECE demonstrator has evaluated two engine configurations during three rounds of hot-fire testing.

"The first test series in 2006 was a challenge but showed promise," said Tony Kim, Deep Throttling Engine project manager at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala. "Testing in 2007 provided an in-depth examination of low-power-level throttling and engine performance characteristics. This third cycle we actively addressed and found solutions to the challenges we faced."

The team carefully assessed test results that showed pressure oscillations in the engine at lower throttle levels called "chugging." Chugging may not be a concern for the engine itself, but the resulting vibrations could have the potential to resonate with the structure of the rocket and cause problems for the lander or crew.

Injector and propellant feed system modifications successfully eliminated engine chugging by controlling liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen flow to the combustion chamber. The latest engine configuration incorporates a new injector design and propellant feed system that carefully manages the pressure, temperature and flow of propellants.

"The technology developed from this effort will help engineers successfully design future cryogenic engines to meet the throttling requirements of the Constellation Program's Altair lunar lander," Kim said.

The CECE is based on the existing Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RL10 upper stage rocket engine. Previous first-hand flight experience, as well as this data, will allow engineers to develop simulation models that can focus testing for efficiency and effectiveness.

The CECE collaboration includes engineers from Marshall, NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. NASA has invested in CECE technology since 2005 as part of the Propulsion and Cryogenics Advanced Development project at Glenn. The project is funded by the Exploration Technology Development Program in NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate.

Provided by NASA

Explore further: DNA survives critical entry into Earth's atmosphere

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

LiquidPiston unveils quiet X Mini engine prototype

25 minutes ago

LiquidPiston has a new X Mini engine which is a small 70 cubic centimeter gasoline powered "prototype. This is a quiet, four-stroke engine with near-zero vibration. The company said it can bring improvements ...

Rare new species of plant: Stachys caroliniana

1 hour ago

The exclusive club of explorers who have discovered a rare new species of life isn't restricted to globetrotters traveling to remote locations like the Amazon rainforests, Madagascar or the woodlands of the ...

New terahertz device could strengthen security

1 hour ago

We are all familiar with the hassles that accompany air travel. We shuffle through long lines, remove our shoes, and carry liquids in regulation-sized tubes. And even after all the effort, we still wonder if these procedures ...

European space plane set for February launch

1 hour ago

Europe's first-ever "space plane" will be launched on February 11 next year, rocket firm Arianespace said Friday after a three-month delay to fine-tune the mission flight plan.

Recommended for you

DNA survives critical entry into Earth's atmosphere

15 hours ago

The genetic material DNA can survive a flight through space and re-entry into the earth's atmosphere—and still pass on genetic information. A team of scientists from UZH obtained these astonishing results ...

Team develops cognitive test battery for spaceflight

16 hours ago

Space is one of the most demanding and unforgiving environments. Human exploration of space requires astronauts to maintain consistently high levels of cognitive performance to ensure mission safety and success, and prevent ...

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.