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Potential propulsion option for NASA's Lunar Lander Ascent Engine
Article Type: Mini features From: Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology: An International Journal, Volume 80, Issue 2.
Alliant Techsystems recently completed NASA's first test series for a 7,500 pounds-force (lbf) thrust Liquid Oxygen (LOX)/Methane Workhorse Engine. The test series provided valuable insights into LOX/Methane engine ignition, start-up, shutdown, nominal operation, off-nominal operation, and dynamic combustion stability. This project is a collaboration between three NASA Centers and industry. Funded by NASA's Exploration Technology Development Program at Langley, VA., this work is conducted under the direction of the Propulsion and Cryogenics Advanced Development Project based at Glenn Research Center in Ohio. The Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. is managing the contract. ATK and its subcontractor, XCOR Aerospace, designed, fabricated, and tested the regeneratively cooled LOX/Methane engine. The engine design and test data are incorporated into ATK's new design for a flight-like prototype engine that will further mature the LOX/ Methane regeneratively cooled technology for NASA. ATK will continue to support NASA's activity in this engine development activity and is focused on providing a propulsion option for the Lunar Lander ascent stage.
“ATK is pleased to be working with NASA on the development of this key propulsion subsystem for future space exploration missions,” said Bart Olson, Vice President and General Manager of ATK's Tactical Propulsion and Controls Division, based in Baltimore, MD. “The workhorse engine may lead to higher performing and lower-cost solutions for expanding our missions into deep space. This new engine could support the Lunar Lander Ascent mission in the near term and other deep space applications in the long- term” Olson added.
When combined with liquid oxygen, a liquid methane engine offers higher performance relative to other storable propellants, better long-term storage potential relative to liquid hydrogen, and lower cost handling characteristics due to its environmentally safe nature. Methane-fueled rocket engines are being considered for Mars exploration because of the possibility of producing these propellants by utilising in situ resources.
Tests to date have been conducted at sea level static conditions. Recognising that ignition in deep space is a primary concern for any space propulsion system; ATK will conduct a series of follow-on tests at its vacuum test facility in Ronkonkoma, NY. These tests will allow evaluation of various ignition concepts and demonstrate repeatable ignition characteristics in vacuum.