A fantastic blue fire erupted as a rocket engine thruster roared to life in a array of tests recently during NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The blue flame, not standard of many engine tests, was a signature of a thruster’s fuel — methane.
“With a stream configuration, these methane thrusters could propel a tiny lander,” pronounced Steve Hanna, lead for NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems during Marshall. “With a information gained from these tests, a record is scalable for even incomparable applications for in-space engines and incomparable landers.”
Methane is a earnest fuel for a tour to Mars. Methane — some-more fast than glass hydrogen, today’s many common rocket fuel — can also be stored during some-more docile temperatures. Methane may be recovered or combined from internal resources, regulating in-situ apparatus function (ISRU).
With a storage heat identical to that of glass oxygen — a oxidizer for methane-powered engines — methane’s storage tanks will need rebate insulation, heading to some-more affordable tanks. Methane is also denser than glass hydrogen, that allows for smaller tanks.
With a Mars 2020 mission, NASA skeleton to will denote ISRU technologies that could capacitate diesel and consumable oxygen prolongation from a Martian atmosphere. If successful, astronauts could emanate both a fuel and oxidizer indispensable to propel an climb car to Martian orbit.
The stream thruster being tested, that is partial of a pressure-fed design, produces 4,000 pounds of thrust. To grasp a 25,000 pounds of bearing indispensable for incomparable descent/ascent landers on Mars, and capacitate engines to be throttled as needed, Marshall engineers are also building a pump-fed engine design. In a design, a turbopump will use a turbine able of adult to 95,000 revolutions per notation to broach methane to a thruster, permitting for aloft bearing levels.
Marshall engineers recently successfully conducted rough contrast and trickery checkout of a turbopump for a methane engine. Engineers devise to perform a array of tests after this year to determine a turbopump, formerly tested with glass hydrogen, can be used with possibly fuel, and is able of delivering adequate fuel to energy a vast methane engine.
Thrusters — a multiple of an injector and chamber, famous as thruster assemblies in incomparable engines — fueled by methane with a glass oxygen oxidizer, have been underneath growth during Marshall for a final decade. Both a thruster and a turbopump were made with further manufacturing, or 3-D printing.
Not usually does 3-D copy concede for quicker prolongation times and a rebate in a machining and brazing compulsory with normal phony processes, it also allows for a further of thermocouple ports along a length of a chamber. These ports promulgate with a chamber’s coolant channels, providing dissimilar heat information never before available.
“This information will assistance vicious thermal modeling,” pronounced Sandra Greene, an operative in Marshall’s Propulsion Systems Department. “That’s because a thermocouple ports are so sparkling — we not usually get a estuary and exit heat of a methane, though we also get information to assistance us determine what is function inside a chamber’s coolant system.”
This singular thermal information will be used to anchor thermal models to optimize a pattern of a thruster for a full regenerative engine complement that uses methane as fuel.
A regenerative engine complement cycles fuel by channels within a cover to cold a cover before and during ignition. In prior methane thruster growth efforts during Marshall, cover designs were essentially uncooled — regulating ablative or high-temperature adverse materials to forestall a cover from overheating.
“To maximize performance, a regeneratively cooled cover is desired,” pronounced Greene. “This cover is Marshall’s initial try during such a pattern in a methane-powered system.”
With NASA closer to promulgation astronauts to Mars than ever before, these tests and a record they enthuse could capacitate a initial stairs on a Martian aspect to come from astronauts exiting a lander driven by a fantastic blue methane flame.
To perspective video of the methane-powered thruster test, click here.