Grumman Corporation has developed and successfully
tested a Reaction Control Subsystem (RCS) engine for next-generation
reusable space launch and transportation vehicles. The new
engine burns nontoxic propellants, an achievement that enhances
safety, reliability and affordability.

Developed by the company’s Space Technology sector under
a contract awarded in 2001 for NASA’s Next Generation Launch
Technology program, the RCS Thruster is made of a pure alloy
– platinum iridium – and burns a combination of liquid oxygen
and ethanol. These two developments eliminate the need for
a ceramic coating currently used to protect RCS engines
from damage caused by historically used toxic propellants.

RCS engines on Space Shuttle orbiters have been replaced
as a result of service, handling or foreign object damage
to such coatings, which are only three to six thousandths
of an inch thick. In addition, workers need to take stringent,
time-consuming safety precautions when maintaining or repairing
hardware that currently uses toxic propellants.

“Our RCS Thruster increases the reliability, maintainability
and safety of space vehicle engines,” said Sonya Sepahban,
vice president and deputy of technology development for
Northrop Grumman Space Technology. “We began developing
this ‘clean propellant’ engine more than two years ago.
It’s the first uncoated RCS engine developed and tested
in the United States for NASA. We believe this engine will
greatly increase both vehicles’ utility and reusability.”

The test, conducted at the company’s Capistrano Test Site
in San Clemente, Calif., demonstrated pulsing capability
and steady state firing capability, showing that the engine
exceeds performance requirements.

“Though we’re still in the early stages of development,
the platinum iridium chamber has proven very robust by handling
the optimum mixture ratio with comfortable temperature margins,”
said Bernard Jackson, Space Technology project manager.

The RCS Thruster engine is based on Northrop Grumman Space
Technology’s pintle injector concept and shares heritage
with the company’s reliable Lunar Module Descent Engine
and the 100-pound thrust engine used to insert NASA’s Chandra
X-ray Observatory into a highly elliptical orbit.

Northrop Grumman Space Technology develops a broad range
of systems at the leading edge of space, defense and electronics
technology. The sector creates products for U.S. government
and commercial customers that contribute significantly to
the nation’s security and leadership in science and technology.

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