Northrop Grumman has demonstrated an enhanced rocket engine technology that is being considered for use on Nasa’s manned missions to the moon.

The demonstration on a Nasa TR202 lunar descent engine showed stable combustions over a broad throttling range using pintle injector technology.

The ability to throttle thrust level over a wide range is critical for providing a soft, precise lunar landing with hazard avoidance capability.

The technology has already achieved combustion stability over a 10:1 throttle range while using liquid oxygen and gaseous hydrogen propellants during the test programme.

The technology was previously used for Apollo crafts and is being further developed now as a propulsion option for Nasa’s Altair lunar lander.

Northrop Grumman, Aerospace Systems sector, vice-president and chief technology officer Tom Romesser said that the transition of the pintle technology from storable propellants used on Apollo to higher performance cryogenic propellants needed for Altair is a substantial achievement.

The engine technology enables efficient use of propellants during manoeuvres and simplifies overall mission propellant management, the company says.

The data collected during the tests will help in further developing the technology for overall spacecraft operational design and for developing a cryogenic deep throttling engine.

The TR202 programme is funded by Nasa’s Propulsion and Cryogenic Advanced Development Project within the Exploration Technology Development Program.