Lunar Lion Commences Rocket Engine Testing

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Cryogenic liquid bipropellant engines from NASA Johnson Space Center could be used for Lunar Lion maneuvers on the Moon.

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA.; January 62014 – The Penn State Lunar Lion Team has completed its first test of cryogenic liquid bipropellant rocket engines at the Penn State Applied Research Laboratory’s (ARL) high-energy test facility.

Known as “pencil thrusters” due to their being approximately the size of a pencil, the performance of the rocket engines is being characterized in an agreement with NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC). Data collected will be sent to NASA JSC, and will be a determining factor in the choice of rocket engine to be used for Penn State’s lunar lander.

“Our goal is to test these engines to their limits, and show that they can be used in a variety of mission scenarios,” said Michael Paul, Lunar Lion team leader and director of Space Systems Initiatives for ARL. “These are important tests, both for NASA and for the Lunar Lion. It’s great to see young students working alongside seasoned faculty members and researchers. And to think that they are building the first privately-funded spacecraft to land on the Moon – amazing!”

Liquid oxygen and ethanol are the propellants being used for these tests. The propellant delivery and sensor test stand was designed, built, and integrated into a fully functional system almost entirely by Penn State students.

Lunar Lion students have also designed and built a next-generation pencil thruster. Working with NASA engineers as well as Penn State faculty and staff members, student team members have changed the design of the engines received from NASA in hopes of providing improved performance. Tests of those engines are upcoming.

Penn State, through the Lunar Lion Team, is the only university entered in the 18-team international competition, the Google Lunar XPRIZE, to land a privately-funded spacecraft on the Moon by the end of 2015. The Lunar Lion team is currently comprised of more than 80 undergraduate and graduate students who have the opportunity to have hands-on experience in the safe design, construction and operation of a spacecraft.

Video of the rocket engine test can be seen below

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