Unique Propulsion Testing

Unique Propulsion Testing

White Sands Test Facility is an active member of NASA’s Propulsion and Cryogenic Advanced Development (PCAD) team. WSTF is helping develop new propulsion systems that utilize green (non-toxic) propellants. WSTF has tested new reaction control engines that use liquid oxygen (LOX) and liquid methane (LCH4) as propellants that focus on safe, reliable ignition at varying propellant temperatures, pressures, and mixture (oxidizer-to-fuel) ratios. WSTF uses altitude simulation chambers to test these engines at low pressures to effectively expose any uncertainty of reliable ignition during single and multiple engine pulse tests.

WSTF will continue to be a major part of NASA’s PCAD program as it develops new technologies for LOX and LCH4 as propellants for future descent main and ascent main engines for the upcoming lunar and Mars missions. These concepts will be evaluated for overall combustion efficiency, specific impulse, engine life, and thrust-to-weight ratio.

Hypergolic Propellant Handling

WSTF can dispatch propellant handling teams to support projects at any location. Hypergolic propellants such as nitrogen tetroxide, hydrazine, monomethylhydrazine , and unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine have been used and stored at WSTF since 1964.


WSTF can provide hands-on training to customer personnel in handling hypergolic propellants. Classes are tailored to the individual audience and can vary from intense classroom discussions of new chemical analytical techniques to field training with Level-A, totally encapsulating, protective suits.

WSTF has:

  • Developed detailed courses on hypergolic propellants that cover storage, transport, safety equipment, and emergency response for NASA Johnson Space Center, NASA Glenn Research Center, Sandia National Laboratories, and General Electric.
  • Proven expertise in development and qualification testing.
  • Developed adequate detection equipment and PPE for use in hypergolic propellant handling.
  • Researched advanced methods of treating hazardous wastes including the development, construction, and validation of a unique disposal system for hydrazine-type wastes at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
  • Experience in preparing assessment and impact statements for new projects involving hypergolic propellants.
  • Developed procedures for saturating hypergolic propellants with inert gases to more closely simulate in-flight conditions.
  • WSTF can provide hands-on training to customer personnel in handling hypergolics during over-the-road transport.

Iron Nitrate Problems

The WSTF Propulsion Office conducted studies of impact to various components and systems. Techniques such as molecular sieves were developed to reduce contamination of nitrogen tetroxide systems with solid iron nitrate. WSTF subsequently built molecular sieve units to remove iron nitrates from nitrogen tetroxide for use at WSTF, Kennedy Space Center (KSC), and other government facilities.

Electrical Devices in Hazardous, Flammable, and Explosive Environments

WSTF Propulsion personnel use their expertise in applying National Electric Codes and National Fire Protection Association codes to hazardous propellant installations.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

The WSTF Propulsion Office has expertise in development and qualification of PPE for use in hypergolic propellant handling and works with vendors to provide adequate detection equipment. Training programs covering hydrogen and oxygen system design and operations are also available.


WSTF personnel are knowledgeable in all regulatory and safety aspects for proper handling of hazardous wastes from hypergolic propellant activities, and have researched advanced methods of treating such hazardous wastes, including the development, construction, and validation of a unique disposal system for hydrazine-type wastes at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Propulsion personnel are also experienced in all aspects of the preparation of environmental assessments and impact statements for new projects involving hypergolic propellants.


Hydrogen ignition studies have been conducted at WSTF to determine ignition energies for hydrogen air mixtures. Liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen mixing simulation studies were performed using liquid nitrogen and liquid hydrogen to determine stratification and static ignition potential. Cryogenics, liquid nitrogen, liquid oxygen, and liquid hydrogen are routinely handled. Explosive devices such as squibs, NASA Standard Initiators (NSIs), and plastic explosives are also routinely handled.


Bubble Point Testing

WSTF Propulsion has developed and constructed units to test the propellant acquisition screens in the shuttle orbital maneuvering subsystems and reaction control subsystems for use at KSC and provided training to KSC personnel.

Hydrostatic Burst Testing

Testing high-pressure tubes from tube banks proved significant energy is released when tubes burst while undergoing hydrostatic testing. Since such an event could easily endanger lives, this testing has created a significant impact on industry hydrostatic test procedures.

System Leak Detection

Propulsion testing at WSTF has developed and applied helium mass spectrometer and ultrasonic detection techniques to large propellant systems.

Page Last Updated: March 17th, 2014
Page Editor: Judy Corbett