As the United States sets its sights back on the moon, various hardware needed to make such missions a reality are being designed and tested across the aerospace industry. Aerojet Rocketdyne, for example, recently completed hot-fire testing of a new low-cost, high-thrust space engine called the ISE-100, which could become a critical element for future lunar robotic missions for both NASA and the commercial space industry.
NASA, for example, wants to put a crew tended spaceport in lunar orbit called the Deep Space Gateway, which would serve as a staging point for human and robotic missions to the moon’s surface, as well as being a base for missions into deep space, such as to asteroids for mining operations, or for missions to Mars and etc. As part of the fiscal year 2019 budget proposal, NASA is planning to build the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway soon, with elements of it launching on both NASA’s controversial SLS rocket and commercial rockets such as SpaceX’s Falcon fleet starting in 2022.
NASA recently issued a request for information from the U.S. aerospace industry too, seeking feedback on possible approaches to advance lunar payload transportation capabilities. The agency plans to partner with U.S. industry later this year to begin delivering small payloads to the lunar surface starting in 2019.
Aerojet engines have propelled spacecraft to every planet in the solar system, as well as interstellar space, and even provided landing propulsion for Mars and asteroid missions.
Developed specifically for commercial use in-space, the ISE-100 can produce 100 pounds of thrust, and provide downward thrust during spacecraft landings on the moon’s surface. It utilizes MON-25/MMH propellants, a high performance storable oxidizer with a low freezing point that is particularly well suited to deep space environments.
The engine also uses an additively manufactured Titanium injector, which completed the entire test series without anomaly, according to Aerojet.
“During the test program, the engine successfully accumulated 75 individual tests, 774 pulses and more than 500 seconds of hot-fire time,” says the company. “Key tests performed in this program included multiple long duration steady state burns; multiple short pulse trains; and a long endurance duty cycle, representative of potential robotic lunar lander missions.”
With the engine’s hot-fire testing successfully completed, Aerojet will now move from the ISE-100 development phase to the certification phase, where it will undergo additional configuration testing with flight qualified materials.
“Aerojet Rocketdyne stands ready to support commercial and NASA endeavors with reliable and affordable propulsion systems, like our new ISE-100 engine,” said Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and President Eileen Drake.
“We are confident industry will be ready soon to help NASA and other customers land small payloads on the Moon. In the near-term, we are interested in sending science and human exploration instruments to return data directly from the surface,” said Jason Crusan, director for Advanced Exploration Systems at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We believe demand for access to the Moon will increase significantly over the next decade,” he added, noting that many of 180 ideas discussed at a recent gateway science workshop were related to activities on the lunar surface.