Apr. 21, 2000 Advanced Space Transportation Media Update -- March 2000
Taking another step toward making future space transportation more like today's air travel, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and its industry partners have completed a series of successful tests on air-breathing rocket engines. The latest ground testing focused on engine performance during low-speed portions of the flight, when high thrust levels are needed to push the air-breathing rocket through Earth's atmosphere. An air-breathing – or rocket-based, combined cycle – engine inhales oxygen from the air for about half the flight, so it doesn't have to store the oxygen on board. That reduces the vehicle's weight at launch, resulting in significant cost savings. At launch, the engine is powered by specially designed rockets strategically placed in a duct that captures air. Once the vehicle reaches twice the speed of sound, the rockets are turned off and the engine relies totally on oxygen in the atmosphere to burn its fuel. When its speed increases to about 10 times the speed of sound, the engine converts to a conventional rocket-powered system for the final push to orbit.
Similar testing by Aerojet Corp. of Sacramento, Calif., and Rocketdyne of Canoga Park, Calif., showed that recent modifications to the engine's internal geometry improved performance. Aerojet conducted tests at its newly refurbished facility in Sacramento, while Rocketdyne conducted tests at the General Applied Sciences Laboratory (GASL) on Long Island, N.Y.
Meanwhile, the Marshall Center's academic partner, Pennsylvania State University of University Park, finished the first phase of its experimental work on air-breathing rocket engine development in mid-March and immediately started a second phase of activity. The experimental research now under way will examine the effect of two rockets in a duct and the use of hydrocarbon fuels, instead of hydrogen.
Air-breathing Rocket Engine Technology Summary: http://www.msfc.nasa.gov/news/astptechbriefs/air_breathing.pdf
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Note to Editors: The Advanced Space Transportation Media Update is a regular progress report to keep you informed about technology development activity at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. As NASA's Lead Center for Space Transportation Systems Development, Marshall is pushing technologies that will dramatically increase the safety and reliability and reduce the cost of space transportation. Interviews and materials supporting this Media Update are available to media representatives by contacting June Malone of the Marshall Media Relations Department at (256) 544-0034. For more information on Marshall's space transportation activities, visit: http://www.highway2space.com
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