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.

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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.