Propulsion development engineers at NASA have developed and tested the agency’s first full-scale rotating detonation rocket engine, or RDRE. It is an advanced rocket engine design that could revolutionize how future rocket propulsion systems are built, according to the space agency.
The RDRE is different from conventional rocket engine designs and generates thrust using a “supersonic combustion phenomenon” known as detonation. The design allows the engine to generate more power while using less fuel than propulsion systems that are currently being used. According to NASA, it has the potential to power both human landers and interplanetary vehicles going to deep space destinations like the Moon and Mars.
Currently, engineers from NASA and space tech company IN Space are confirming data from RDRE hot fire tests conducted in 2022. During the tests, the engine was fired over twelve times for a total duration of nearly 10 minutes. The RDRE achieved its primary test objective by demonstrating that its hardware, which was made using 3D printing, and its designs and processes could operate for long durations while withstanding the extreme heat and pressure environments generated.
The test also achieved additional milestones, including the successful performance of both deep throttling and internal ignition. With the recent success with RDRE, NASA engineers are conducting follow-on work to develop a fully reusable RDRE with higher thrust to exactly identify the performance benefit over traditional liquid rocket engines.