Headlines > News > Aerojet to Test Advanced Liquid Oxygen Liquid Methane Rocket Engine for Lunar Ascent

Aerojet to Test Advanced Liquid Oxygen Liquid Methane Rocket Engine for Lunar Ascent

Published by Klaus Schmidt on Fri Jul 3, 2009 9:19 am
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SACRAMENTO, Calif., (Aerojet) – Aerojet, a GenCorp (NYSE: GY) company, announced today that it has completed manufacturing and assembly of an advanced 5,500-lbf Liquid Oxygen (LOX) Liquid Methane (LCH4) rocket engine. Aerojet will soon begin testing this advanced engine to provide valuable data that will validate the key design features necessary to extend the technology development of next-generation propulsion systems being developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

LOX Methane technology development focuses on rocket propellants that are non-toxic as well as higher performing than many historic propellant combinations. The 5,500-lbf Liquid Oxygen Liquid Methane development engine is funded by the Propulsion and Cryogenics Advanced Development Project (PCAD), under NASA’s Exploration Technology Development Program (ETDP). ETDP’s role is to develop and mature the necessary technologies to support flight systems in NASA’s Constellation Program, which includes engine development for future lunar landers.



The lunar lander will be required to send human explorers to the moon and return them to Earth. Unlike the lunar missions during the Apollo program which encompassed days on the moon, the missions anticipated for the lander may establish a lunar outpost and extend lunar missions to months at a time.

The lunar lander is comprised of a descent and an ascent stage. The descent stage will house the majority of the propellant, power supplies and breathing oxygen for the crew. The ascent stage will house the astronauts, their life-support equipment and necessary fuel. The ascent main engine is anticipated to be expendable, high-performance and pressure-fed, with the primary function of powering an ascent module (AM) from the lunar surface into lunar orbit for rendezvous with the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV).

Multiple vehicle study activities have shown that a cryogenic Liquid Oxygen (LOX)/Liquid Methane (LCH4) propellant combination provides advantages for long duration storage in space and for the ability to be extended for future missions to Mars. This propellant combination is also being studied as a promising option for the lunar lander’s ascent stage due to potential savings in overall systems mass when compared to conventional propellant (hypergolic) systems. This new Liquid Oxygen/Liquid Methane ascent main rocket engine is not as mature as the conventional hypergolic systems. It uses non-toxic propellants not previously used for this application and therefore tests are needed to provide the critical design data. The Aerojet 5,500-lbf Liquid Oxygen/Liquid Methane rocket engine program is designed to provide the critical data for the AM application.

After Aerojet’s initial tests, the engine will be delivered to NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where the engine will be tested at a simulated altitude with a large nozzle for performance characterization and for a long duration to demonstrate the design’s thermal adequacy.

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