NASA is currently working on components for its future Artemis lunar lander that we use what the space agency calls next-generation thrusters. Those thrusters are small rocket engines that are used to make alterations in the flight path or altitude of a spacecraft. They will be used to enter lunar orbit and to descend to the surface of the moon.
NASA can’t afford to have the failure of critical components like the thrusters in space, so it does extensive testing here on Earth. NASA is working with partner Frontier Aerospace and has so far performed about 60 hot-fire tests on a pair of thruster prototypes over ten days. The testing concluded on March 16th, and took place in a vacuum chamber that simulates the environment space.
The testing was done while replicating mission flight operations, and engineers collected multiple data streams. The data collected included pressure and stability of the combustion chamber and the pressure and temperature of the feed system, which delivers fuel from the tanks to the thruster. The new thruster is developed under the NASA Thruster for the Advancement of Low-temperature Operation in Space program. The thruster is meant to reduce the cost, mass, and power requirements of spacecraft, which are three items critical to every space mission.
The thrusters will be used aboard the Peregrine lunar Lander. The thrusters burn mixed oxides of nitrogen and monomethyl hydrazine propellants known as MON-25. That propellant has been tested since the 1980s, but no current spacecraft uses it. The thruster can operate at a propellant temperature range between -40 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
That is a much broader operating temperature range than current thrusters that can operate between 45 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The design will allow spacecraft to reduce the power requirements needed for operation and low temperatures allowing for smaller, lighter, and less expensive systems.