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Fri, Dec 14, 2007

ATK Tests LOX/Methane Rocket Engine In Vacuum

Successful Test Paves Way For Lunar Ascent Rocket

Aero-News has learned Alliant Techsystems recently demonstrated a critical capability of its liquid oxygen (LOX)/Methane rocket engine, by igniting it in a vacuum chamber. The successful ignition test was designed to demonstrate the viability of a LOX/Methane rocket engine for a lunar ascent mission.

The test engine was designed for 3,500-lbs-thrust, to bracket the expected thrust range of a lunar ascent engine. The successful vacuum chamber test is the latest in a series of tests conducted by ATK, which calls itself the industry leader in LOX/Methane rocket engine technology.

The company previously test-fired a 7,500-lbs LOX/Methane engine at sea-level.

ATK expects to conduct additional tests of its LOX/Methane engine technology over a wide range of operating conditions to simulate the environment an operational engine must perform in during a lunar ascent. The data collected from this test series will be instrumental in determining performance parameters and the optimal scale of a flight-weight LOX/Methane engine. The company will conduct these tests at its test facility in Ronkonkoma, NY.

The ascent engine is a critical propulsion system on the Lunar Lander and its operation is required to return the astronauts from the lunar surface to rendezvous with the orbiting Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV).

"Initial tests have already shown performance levels that meet or exceed engine requirements," according to Bill Rutley, ATK Senior Program Manager. "We took what we learned on the 7,500 lbs engine and incorporated design changes into the 3,500 lbs engine to improve its performance. Based on the latest test data, our vacuum specific impulse will surpass 350 seconds."

ATK says a LOX/Methane propellant combination offers significant performance benefits over other propellant combinations. The engine is also significantly lighter weight and can provide increased safety margins for the Lunar Lander's design, in terms of allowable weight of the ascent module.



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