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Exploration Progress Report for Week Ending February 3
Dolores Beasley
Headquarters, Washington
(Phone: 202.358.1753)

Kim Newton
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
(Phone: 256.544.0034)

Status Report: 06-010

NASA engineers have successfully tested a new breed of reaction control engine and propulsion system. The tests helped investigate the possibility of future space travel fueled by non-toxic propellants.

The Reaction Control Engine and the Auxiliary Propulsion System Test Bed were recently tested at NASA's White Sands Test Facility near Las Cruces, N.M. The engine, a prototype thruster used for maneuvering a vehicle in space, was designed and developed by Aerojet of Sacramento, Calif., in cooperation with NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The Reaction Control Engine is unique in its use of non-toxic propellants -- liquid oxygen and ethanol. Environmentally friendly, inexpensive and easily vaporized, the propellants could create a safer work environment, lower costs and increase efficiency. Other significant potential benefits include lower maintenance and quicker turn-around between missions.

The Auxiliary Propulsion System test bed simulates the tanks, propellant feed lines and other components of a spacecraft propulsion system; and includes integration of three Reaction Control Engines, plus three engine simulators.

The test bed was first tested by flowing propellants through the system without igniting the engines to verify components and subsystems. Engineers then conducted hot-fire tests on the system’s three Reaction Control Engines.

The engines were tested individually and in various combinations with each other under differing propellant temperature and pressure conditions, similar to operations experienced during an actual mission in space.

Data obtained from the engine and system tests will advance auxiliary propulsion system design and modeling for future flight demonstrators.

The technologies are being developed by NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in Washington and implemented by the Auxiliary Propulsion Project in the Exploration Propulsion Office at the Marshall Center. The series of tests are aimed at demonstrating simulated ground and flight operations to support the Vision for Space Exploration -- to transport humans to and from the moon and Mars.

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