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Capabilities & Technology


The heart of “rocket science”, analysis is the research and engineering of examining current and future engine designs, examining test data, specification sheets, design details, as well as the anticipated conditions the spacecraft or vehicle will be subjected to.  These all help to describe the overall performance of an engine system, and analysis ensures that an engine will meet the needs for a given mission.

Analysis may include performance assessments of existing designs, reviewing test data for adverse conditions like water hammer or rough/unstable combustion, or extrapolating existing engine designs for new missions or operating regimes.  It may also mean reviewing test or flight data for unexpected or undesired flight or operating conditions and understanding what happened to improve the performance for future systems.

Engineers use numerous analysis tools, such as computational fluid dynamic (CFD) modeling or numerical analysis codes like NASA’s Chemical Equilibrium with Applications (CEA) to aid in their assessments.

Design & Development

When it comes to hands-on work with rocket engine hardware, design & development is where the engineer gains experience. Engineers apply the lessons learned through analysis to plan and develop the piece part components and sub-systems needed to make an engine work.

In development, the engineer is responsible for following the various components through their lifecycle, from paper design to assembled hardware, addressing manufacturing or test errors and how it will influence the final engine system, and helping to integrate all the hardware together for the final engine.


Testing includes the “smoke and flame” portion of chemical propulsion and can be the most exciting parts of an engineer’s job.  Engineers will put engines or components on a test stand and run them through a rigorous set of planned test conditions to push the system to its limits and make sure they can respond effectively and appropriately to any potential condition.

Engineers can use a number of testing sites around the country, depending on engine sizes and needed test environment, such as those located at the Chemical Propulsion Research Complex at NASA’s John H. Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field, or the In-Space Propulsion Facility at NASA’s John H. Glenn Research Center at the Neil A. Armstrong Test Facility.

Specific Areas of Contribution

Flight System Design & Development: European Service Module – Propulsion Sub-System

We are responsible for the insight and oversight of flight system hardware design & development, such as for the European Service Module – the main propulsion element of the Orion crewed vehicle.

For more information about our propulsion systems testing, contact Stephen Barsi.

Future System Analysis & Development: Lander Vehicles

As NASA embarks on its next great mission of landing the first woman and next man on the surface of the Moon by 2024, we are helping the contractors to develop the next lander vehicles that will get us to the Moon.  Leveraging years of experience in pressure-fed and liquid cryogenic propulsion systems, our subject matter experts are providing expertise in propulsion and propellant transfer aspects in support of the development of the NASA Human Landing System.

For more information about our support of the development of lander vehicles, contact Bill Marshall.

Thruster Testing & Development Research:  Green Propulsion

We support the developmental research and testing of novel and innovative propulsion systems, such as ionic liquid propellants and related technologies that are seen as direct or near-direct replacements for hydrazine, heritage monopropellants, or hypergolic bi-propellants.

These propellants are often referred to as ‘green propellants,’ ‘nontoxic propellants,’ or ‘reduced toxicity propellants.’  Green propellants are characterized by their relatively benign handling characteristics and higher performance relative to hydrazine, along with their benign exhaust products.

Our team includes members of the Agency’s Green Propulsion Working Group, which seeks awareness of the objectives, task management, resources, and schedule of the Agency’s green propellant related projects for the purposes of advancing the general infusion and adoption of green propulsion technologies.

In 2018, the Green Propulsion Working Group published a technology development roadmap to address the Agency’s technology development goals for green propulsion.

In 2020, a joint NASA/AFRL presentation on the State of the Art in Green Propulsion Technologies was given at the In-Space Chemical Propulsion Technical Interchange Meeting.

TitleAuthor(s)TypeTopic Area(s)DateLink
2018 NASA Green Propulsion Technology Development RoadmapCavender, D. P., Marshall, W. M., Maynard, A. P.Technical PublicationSpacecraft Propulsion and Power2018, August 1NTRS
State of the Art in Green Propulsion-2020
William Marshall
Daniel Cavender
Andrew Maynard
Paul Zuttarelli
PresentationIn-Space Chemical Propulsion TIM
2020, August 18NTRS

Other Resources on Green Propellants:

“Recommended Figures of Merit for Green Monopropellants”:

TitleAuthor(s)SourceTypeTopic Area(s)DateLink
Recommended Figures of Merit for Green MonopropellantsMarshall. William M., Deans, Matthew CAIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference and Exhibit, (San Jose, CA)Technical MemorandumAstronautics (General), Propellants and Fuels2013, August 1NTRS

NASA STMD Green Propellant Infusion Mission website

For more information about our work in Green Propulsion, please contact  Bill Marshall.

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