Credit: NASA

With bold objectives that consist in returning to returning to the moon, creating the infrastructure that will let us stay there, or even sending the first crewed mission to Mars, NASA continues to explore the combination of advanced technologies. With a key focus on propulsion technologies, the space organization recently achieved a new benchmark called the Rotating Detonation Rocket Engine (RDRE).

27 engineers of the U.S. government agency recently tested this new propulsion system for 251 seconds, producing more than 2,630 kg (5,800 lbs) of thrust. This sustained burn meets several mission requirements, such as deep-space burns and landing operations.

RDRE’s first hot fire test was performed at Marshall in the summer of 2022 in partnership with In Space LLC and Purdue University, both of Lafayette, Indiana. That test produced more than 4,000 pounds of thrust for nearly a minute. The primary goal of the latest test, Teasley noted, is to better understand how to scale the combustor to different thrust classes, supporting engine systems of all types and maximizing the variety of missions it could serve, from landers to upper stage engines to supersonic retropropulsion, a deceleration technique that could land larger payloads – or even humans – on the surface of Mars, NASA explains.

The RDRE enables a huge leap in design efficiency,” Marshall combustion devices engineer Thomas Teasley said. “It demonstrates we are closer to making lightweight propulsion systems that will allow us to send more mass and payload further into deep space, a critical component to NASA’s Moon to Mars vision.”

While the complex design of the system is the result of the use of AM, NASA has yet to reveal what specific AM process has given life to this system.

This test is the second in a range of tests the agency plans to conduct – as they are now looking to scale the technology for higher performance.

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