A novel rocket engine is proposed to offer major system-level advantages in planetary landers, reusable second stages, and other space vehicles that perform entry, descent, and landing maneuvers. The Phase I effort successfully developed design and performance analysis tools, and identified a design solution that meets the vehicle functional requirements. This Phase II effort is focused on designing, building, and testing engine hardware that will validate the Phase I analytical results. Successful completion of the Phase II effort will enable full engine ground- and flight-testing as part of a Phase III effort.
The engine delivers performance commensurate with today’s market-leading upper stage engines while also accommodating deep throttle operation in the presence of atmospheric pressure. When strategically integrated into the vehicle base, the engine nozzle serves as an actively cooled metallic heat shield during atmospheric entry maneuvers. The same surface creates a robust barrier that protects the rest of the vehicle from surface ejecta during terminal descent on unprepared landing sites such as the moon or Mars. The nozzle achieves high area ratio gas expansion within a form factor ten times shorter than traditional bell nozzles, alleviating plume-surface interactions by increasing the clearance between the base of a lander vehicle and the target surface, or for equivalent ground clearance, the nozzle decreases the size and mass of the requisite landing gear.
This work is in response to NASA SBIR Focus Area 12 Topic Z7.04, which seeks Lander Systems Technologies that alleviate the plume-surface interaction environment through novel propulsion cluster placements and surface ejecta damage tolerant systems, and which “improve the mass efficiency of in-space stages and landers, …reduce integration complexity, …enable reusable landing systems, …achieve multifunctional components, …and reduce operating complexity.”