Monday, June 29, 2009

Northrop Grumman Demonstrates Rocket Engine Technology That Could Enable Return of U.S. Astronauts to Moon

Northrop Grumman Demonstrates Rocket Engine Technology That Could Enable Return of U.S. Astronauts to Moon
June 29, 2009

REDONDO BEACH, Calif. -- Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) has demonstrated rocket engine technology that may enable the return of American astronauts to the moon.

Working with NASA on the TR202 lunar descent engine, the company has successfully demonstrated stable combustion over a broad throttling range, utilizing high-performance pintle injector technology. The ability to throttle thrust level over a wide range is critical to providing a soft, precision lunar landing with hazard avoidance capability.

Northrop Grumman's heritage pintle injector technology was most notably used on the original Lunar Module Descent Engine, performing flawlessly on each Apollo descent to the moon's surface. Since then, the company has evolved the technology for multiple applications, and is currently working with NASA to develop the throttling pintle injector technology as a candidate propulsion option for the Altair lunar lander.

Altair is the vehicle that NASA's Constellation program will develop to put humans on the moon. Northrop Grumman is supporting NASA on several elements of the Constellation program, including the Altair vehicle conceptual design.

The significant technical objective of achieving combustion stability over a 10:1 throttle range while using liquid oxygen and gaseous hydrogen propellants was successfully achieved early in the test program. Stable performance was demonstrated at 9,000, 6,750, 2,250 and 900 pounds force (lbf) thrust levels and an oxidizer-to-fuel mixture ratio of 6.0.

"Migrating our pintle engine technology from storable propellants utilized on Apollo to higher performance cryogenic propellants needed for Altair is a substantial achievement," said Tom Romesser, vice president and chief technology officer for Northrop Grumman's Aerospace Systems sector.

The TR202 program is funded by NASA's Propulsion and Cryogenic Advanced Development Project within the Exploration Technology Development Program.

"The pintle injector is ideal for descent engine applications," said Annik Majamaki, Northrop Grumman program manager. "The TR202 team has worked hard to get to the test stand, and now we have the opportunity to demonstrate the full capability of this injector."

"Employing this technology for the descent engine opens the mission trade space, enables the most efficient use of propellants during maneuvers and simplifies overall mission propellant management," she noted. "The inherent combustion stability demonstrated again by the pintle injector also simplifies the overall engine design -- eliminating the need for complicated stability enhancement mechanisms required by other injector configurations."

Testing the throttling injector has been a collaborative effort, teaming Northrop Grumman and Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) propulsion engineers who performed testing at MSFC's sea-level test facility. Pintle injector testing is continuing with the goal of fully characterizing and optimizing the injector for performance and combustion chamber heat transfer over a range of propellant mixture ratios. This data will be valuable in scaling the engine technology to the thrust level and overall spacecraft operational design to reduce risk for development of a cryogenic deep throttling engine.

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