New rocket engine promises to lower launch costs
TRW NEWS RELEASE
Posted: September 26, 2000
TRW Inc. has taken a huge stride toward providing more affordable access to space with the successful initial static-fire testing of a low-cost booster engine based on TRW's pintle injection technology.
The 650,000-pound thrust Low Cost Pintle Engine (LCPE), one of the largest liquid rocket engines built since Saturn F-1 engines powered Apollo program flights in the 1970s, was designed as a simple, easy-to-manufacture, low-cost engine. The LCPE has parts made from common steel alloys using standard industrial fabrication techniques, employs ablative cooling techniques instead of more expensive regenerative cooling, and features the least complex type of rocket propellant injector -- a single element coaxial pintle injector.
The LCPE was subjected this summer to hot fire testing at 100 percent of its rated thrust as well as at a 65 percent throttle condition at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. TRW changed the pintle injector configuration three times during testing to explore the engine's performance envelope; engineers also replaced the ablative chamber once while the engine was on the test stand æ demonstrating the LCPE's ease of operation.
"The LCPE has demonstrated nominal performance and absolute combustion stability throughout its testing," said Kathy Gavitt, TRW's LCPE program manager. "This testing is an important first step in validating that a low-cost pintle engine can substantially lower the cost of future launch vehicles."
Engine testing is planned to continue throughout the year under a cooperative agreement between TRW and NASAšs Marshall Space Flight Center.
The key element of the LCPE's design is its single element coaxial pintle injector, used to introduce propellants into the combustion chamber. TRW has used this design in nearly all of its bipropellant liquid rocket engines. This includes the Lunar Module Descent Engine (LMDE) which safely landed 12 astronauts on the lunar surface between 1969 and 1972 and was critical in the rescue of Apollo 13.
Other notable features of the LCPE are:
TRW has tested more than 50 different pintle injector engines, using more than 25 different propellant combinations with complete combustion stability and no need for acoustic cavities or baffles. Previously, pintle injector engines were successfully tested with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen at thrust levels of 16,000 and 40,000 pounds. TRW has flown more than 140 engines ranging in size from the 100-pound thrust liquid apogee engine used on NASAšs Chandra X-ray Observatory to the 10,000-pound thrust Delta and LMDE engines.