Aerojet will soon begin testing an advanced liquid oxygen (LOX) liquid methane (LCH4) rocket engine that has been developed and assembled to validate design features for next-generation propulsion systems.

The technology is aimed at developing rocket propellants that are non-toxic and perform better than conventional propellant combinations.

The 5,500lbf engine development programme is funded by the propulsion and cryogenics advanced development project, under Nasa’s Exploration Technology Development Program (ETDP).

ETDP focuses on developing and advancing the technologies to support flight systems in Nasa’s Constellation programme including engine development for future man-on-moon missions.

Studies show that a cryogenic LOX/LCH4 propellant combination can be stored for a longer time in space, which could also enable extended missions to Mars.

The propellant combination is also being studied as an option for the lunar lander’s ascent stage due to potential savings in overall systems mass over traditional propellant systems.

The LOX/LCH4 ascent main rocket engine will be treated further to provide the critical design data for use in the rocket’s ascent module.

Aerojet will hand over the rocket engine after the initial tests to Nasa for further testing in a simulated environment to characterise the engine performance and achieve thermal accuracy.