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Advanced Propulsion Systems Ground Test Technology


Scope Title:

Advanced Propulsion Test Technology Development

Scope Description:

Rocket propulsion technology development is enabled by rigorous ground testing to mitigate the propulsion system risks that are inherent in launch and spaceflight. In general, development testing is part of standard practice to design and implement propulsive elements for a launch or space vehicle propelled by chemical rocket propulsion for boost stage or in-space propulsion. Development testing involves a combination of engine-level and subcomponent testing to demonstrate the propulsion hardware was designed to meet the performance requirements for a specified operational envelop over robust margins and shown to be sufficiently reliable prior to its first flight.

This topic area seeks to develop advanced ground rocket propulsion test technology components and system-level ground test systems that enhance advanced propulsion technology development and certification.

This subtopic seeks innovative technologies in the following areas:

  • Noncavitating cryogenic valves capable of handling high pressure drop (ΔP > 5,000 psi).
  • Cost-effective cryogenic vessels for high pressures (>8,000 psi) that are lightweight (relative to current technology double-walled and jacketed vessels) and efficient to manufacture.
  • Robust and reliable components compatible with liquid oxygen with the ability to maintain their structural integrity and function reliably in severe vibration environments (Grms in excess of 100g up to 1,000g and Overall Sound Pressure Levels (OASPLs) of 160 dB), and under shock loading conditions. 
  • Additively manufactured components, i.e., injectors, cryogenic valves, and pressure vessels, compatible with environments outlined above, with similar performance as current counterparts.
  • Compact, lightweight (1,000 vs. 6,000 lb) actuators capable of precise control of large, high-pressure valves (ΔP > 5,000 psid and 500 lbm/s flow rate) with a fast response time (response time < 500 ms).
  • Innovative cryogenic quick couplers and components designed to function reliably at cryogenic temperatures (-297 °F to -423 °F).
  • Temperature sensing devices (resistance temperature detectors (RTDs) and thermocouples (TCs)) with good response times (63% of final temperature value within 1 to 2.5 s) and capable of enduring high mass flow rates (>500 lbm/s).
  • Flowmeters capable of measuring mass flow rates within a broad range of flows (0.1 lbm/s to greater than 500 lbm/s) within 1% of industry accepted standard accuracy, compact, lightweight (1,000 vs. 6,000 lb).

The goal is to advance propulsion ground test technologies to minimize test program time, cost, and risk; and meet existing environmental and safety regulations. It is focused on near-term products that augment and enhance proven, state-of-the-art propulsion test facilities. This project is especially interested in ground test and launch environment technologies with the potential to substantially reduce the costs and improve safety/reliability of NASA's test and launch operations.

Expected TRL or TRL Range at completion of the Project: 4 to 6

Primary Technology Taxonomy:

  • Level 1 13 Ground, Test, and Surface Systems
  • Level 2 13.1 Infrastructure Optimization

Desired Deliverables of Phase I and Phase II:

  • Prototype
  • Hardware
  • Software

Desired Deliverables Description:

For all above technologies, research should be conducted to demonstrate technical feasibility during Phase I as a final report and show a path toward Phase II hardware/software demonstration, with delivery of a demonstration unit for NASA testing at the completion of the Phase II contract.

State of the Art and Critical Gaps:

This subtopic seeks to provide technological advances that provide the ability to test next-generation rocket propulsion systems while reducing costs, increasing efficiencies, and improving safety/reliability within the static rocket engine test environment. Specifically, the goal is to reduce costs of propellants and other fluids, reduce logistics costs, reduce times required for ground processing and launch, reduce mission risk, and reduce hazards exposure to personnel.

Technologies are needed to support rocket propulsion testing. Multiple issues remain with combustion instabilities and component/facility performance. These issues can have catastrophic results if not understood completely. New test programs will require the materials to withstand extreme temperatures and harsh environments. Next-generation testing requires the ability to produce very high temperature hydrogen at high near-continuous flow rates to verify component and facility performance. The extreme and harsh environment also requires advancements in mechanical components and instrumentation.

Relevance / Science Traceability:

This subtopic is relevant to the development of liquid propulsion systems development and verification testing in support of the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate (ESDMD), Space Operations Mission Directorate (SOMD), all test programs at Stennis Space Center (SSC), and other propulsion system development centers.


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