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NASA Tests Engine Technology For Landing Astronauts On The Moon

Click for larger image. How can a rocket engine that generates 5,000 degree steam and 13,800 lbs of thrust form icicles at the rim of its nozzle? It's cryogenic. The Common Extensible Cryogenic Engine, CECE for short, based on the design of the heritage Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne RL10 engine, has completed its third round of intensive testing. This technology development engine is fueled by a mixture of minus 297F liquid oxygen and minus 423F liquid hydrogen. The engine components are super-cooled to similar low temperatures. As the CECE burns its frigid fuels, gas composed of hot steam is produced and propelled out the nozzle creating thrust. This high speed, hot gas mixture is essential for propulsion. The steam is cooled by the cold engine nozzle, condensing and eventually freezing at the nozzle exit to form icicles. Image credit: Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne.
by Staff Writers
Huntsville AL (SPX) Jan 15, 2009
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 and 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 and 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 and 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.

Related Links
Constellation at NASA
Rocket Science News at Space-Travel.Com



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Battle Of The Launches All Over Again
Bethesda, MD (SPX) Jan 14, 2009
Here we go again! Everyone wants change. So, why not change our minds about how NASA gets to the International Space Station (ISS), the moon and beyond. Second guessing is the national pastime in Washington, DC. Not only do we second guess NASA decisions, but we do it often, we do it early and we do it late. It is a whole of career thing. In fact, there are some who make it a career.







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