Purdue students are working on a rocket engine that might be used in a vehicle to land on the moon. From left are graduate students Michael Bedard, Emerald McKinney, Thomas Feldman, and Andrew Rettenmaier. The work is part of the NASA-funded Project Morpheus, which includes research to develop new technologies for future trips to the moon, Mars, or asteroids. Photo: Purdue University/Mark Simons
University students are
designing and building a rocket engine that might be used in a vehicle to land
on the moon.
Graduate students Thomas Feldman and Andrew Rettenmaier
are part of a team developing a rocket motor through the NASA-funded Project
Morpheus, which includes research to develop new technologies for future trips
to the moon, Mars, or asteroids.
Two other groups from Armadillo Aerospace in Texas and NASA’s Johnson Space
Center also are in the
process of designing an engine under the same requirements. The most promising
design will be chosen for the vehicle.
The rocket must meet stringent design and performance
specifications related to factors including efficiency, size and weight limits,
thrusting power, and the ability to dynamically throttle the rocket from 1,300
to 4,200 lbs of thrust, Feldman says.
“This thrusting range is needed because initially,
when the lander is fully fueled, it will weigh significantly more than at the
end of the mission when most of the propellant will be gone,” he says.
The rocket, which will use liquid oxygen and liquid
methane propellants, will be designed, built, and tested using specialized
facilities at Purdue’s Maurice J. Zucrow Laboratories, including a new facility
to liquefy the methane propellant.
The research, which began as a senior design project last
fall, is entirely voluntary.
“It’s commendable for students to take on a demanding
project like this totally in their spare time,” says William Anderson, an
associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics and adviser to the
students. “They are applying their advanced training for a truly important
Feldman and Rettenmaier, who both have career aspirations
to work in the aerospace industry, say the project is providing valuable
experience and preparation for the job market.
“This is something you would never learn by reading a
book or taking conventional classes,” says Feldman, who is from Austin, Texas.
“Most universities aren’t going to provide the experience to do
The engineers will first build a “battleship
engine,” or a heavily instrumented test engine that’s far bulkier than the
actual finished motor. The test engine will be needed to validate design
concepts and will be fired up later this summer. Data from the experiments will
be used to refine the engine design.