Technology for a rocket engine
that uses an automotive ignition system to initiate supersonic combustion
waves is being tested at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville,
Ala. Component testing of a small-scale pulse detonation rocket engine
began in April. A spark plug is discharged to ignite hydrogen fuel in
a small initiator tube, about 4 inches long and one-half inch in diameter.
The hot firings, which last 5 to 10 seconds, demonstrate pulse detonation
principles and help researchers evaluate engine performance. Following
this month’s successful testing of the initiator tube, engineers
finalized their design and started building a primary tube — about
3 feet long and 2 inches in diameter — which will be connected to
the initiator tube. Using only a small amount of spark energy, a detonation
wave can be created in the initiator tube and propagated into the larger
primary tube where the main propellants are burned at an extremely high

Like automobile engines, pulse
detonation rocket engines operate by injecting fuel and oxidizer into
long cylinders and igniting the mixture with a spark plug. The explosive
pressure of the detonation pushes the exhaust out the open end of the
cylinder, providing thrust to the vehicle. Pulse detonation rocket engine
technology development could lead to lightweight, low-cost space transportation


Pulse Detonation Rocket Engine
Technology Summary:

Marshall Center, Jet
Propulsion Laboratory host advanced space propulsion workshop

NASA’s Marshall Space
Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena,
Calif., are co-sponsoring the 11th Advanced Space Propulsion
Research Workshop May 31-June 2. This year’s workshop will be held
at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Speakers from NASA, the Department of
Defense, the Department of Energy, industry and academia will discuss
the latest advanced propulsion research and technology development activity.
Topics include space sails, tethers, beamed energy, antimatter, ion drives
and solar thermal propulsion.

Workshop Web site:

Note to Editors: The
Advanced Space Transportation Media Update is a regular progress
report to keep you informed about technology development activity at NASA’s
Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. As NASA’s Lead Center
for Space Transportation Systems Development, Marshall is pushing technologies
that will dramatically increase the safety and reliability and reduce
the cost of space transportation. Interviews and materials supporting
this Media Update are available to media representatives by contacting
June Malone of the Marshall Media Relations Department at (256) 544-0034.
For more information on Marshall’s space transportation activities,