Headlines > News > Orion Propulsion contributes to NASA’s crew launch vehicle

Orion Propulsion contributes to NASA’s crew launch vehicle

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Sat Jul 29, 2006 10:02 am
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Engineers from NASA and Orion Propulsion in Madison, Ala., have teamed up to develop a unique device that could help manage the use of launch vehicle or spacecraft propellants. It’s a component that could be used on the upper stage of NASA’s Ares I crew launch vehicle and the Earth Departure Stage of the Ares V cargo launch vehicle.

The device is a small regulator, or valve, that controls the flow of liquid and gaseous propellants in a vehicle’s pressurization. The hardware development effort is part of a Space Act Agreement coordinated through the Small Business Technology Transfer Program at the Marshall Center. Recently, NASA representatives and key personnel from Orion Propulsion met to begin work outlined in the three-year agreement, which was signed in March.

The small regulator could be used for the Ares I upper stage main propulsion system’s pressurization system. It also could be used for the Reaction Control System in the launch vehicle’s upper stage, and for the Crew Exploration Vehicle, which can transport up to six astronauts to space and is carried atop the Ares I launch vehicle.

The regulator being developed by the Orion team is an integrated design that combines three functions — a valve, a pressure sensor and a temperature sensor — into one piece of hardware. The regulator’s objective is to maintain constant pressure downstream of the valve regardless of the flow of the propellant, thus improving fuel usage. If the ratio is off by even the smallest of margins, there is a possibility that unburned fuel will remain in a tank, which results in lost payload volume and weight.

The regulator also uses magnetostrictive materials, which change shape as a magnetic field — the cause of force being exerted on the material — is applied. When a magnetic field is induced, the length of the material grows and shrinks in diameter, causing the valve to open. The reverse occurs when a magnetic field is not applied. This technique is used to open and close the valve.

The goal of this development effort is to create a sensor-valve system that produces a very fast regulator. The Orion design could decrease the volume, weight and complexity of spacecraft pressurization systems by providing simpler, more robust valves with a response time that could be upgraded to nanoseconds.

For NASA, the work could expand in-house knowledge and tools for the control of ullage space — the void or gaseous space above liquid propellants in a tank — and tank pressurization of propellant feed systems. It also could help support a test bed for the Ares I upper stage cryogenic main propulsion system and Reaction Control System pressurization.

Orion specializes in the design, fabrication and hot/cold testing of rocket system components. “We’re proud to be a part of a technological advancement that could be of use to the Ares I crew launch vehicle and Crew Exploration Vehicle projects. We envision a finely controlled, very fast regulating commercial product applicable to a variety of aerospace markets,” said Tim Pickens, president of Orion.

This is not the first contract Orion has been awarded from NASA. The local company received its first NASA Small Business Innovation Research contract to develop an oxygen-methane thruster earlier this year.

“When Marshall and local businesses team together, everyone wins,” said Helen Stinson, program manager of the Small Business Technology Transfer Program at Marshall.

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