HUNTSVILLE — As NASA takes its first steps toward establishing a long-term presence on the moon, propulsion development engineers at the Marshall Space Flight Center have developed and tested NASA’s first full-scale rotating detonation rocket engine.
The RDRE is an advanced rocket engine design that could significantly change how future propulsion systems are built.
The RDRE achieved its primary test objective by demonstrating that its hardware – made from novel additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, designs and processes – could operate for long durations while withstanding the extreme heat and pressure environments generated by detonations, according to Marshall.
While operating at full throttle, the RDRE produced more than 4,000 pounds of thrust for nearly a minute at an average chamber pressure of 622 pounds per square inch, the highest pressure rating for this design on record.
The RDRE incorporates the NASA-developed copper-alloy GRCop-42 with the powder bed fusion additive manufacturing process, allowing the engine to operate under extreme conditions for longer durations without overheating.
Additional milestones achieved during the test include the successful performance of both deep throttling and internal ignition.
This successful demonstration brings the technology closer to being used with future flight vehicles, enabling NASA and commercial space to move more payload and mass to deep space destinations, an essential component to making space exploration more sustainable.
Because of NASA’s recent success with the RDRE, follow-on work is being conducted by NASA engineers to develop a fully reusable 10,000-pound class RDRE to identify performance benefits over traditional liquid rocket engines.