Public Release: 

April advanced space transportation media update

NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center News Center

Pulse detonation rocket engine testing begins at Marshall Center
Technology for a rocket engine that uses an automotive ignition system to initiate supersonic combustion waves is being tested at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Component testing of a small-scale pulse detonation rocket engine began in April. A spark plug is discharged to ignite hydrogen fuel in a small initiator tube, about 4 inches long and one-half inch in diameter. The hot firings, which last 5 to 10 seconds, demonstrate pulse detonation principles and help researchers evaluate engine performance. Following this month's successful testing of the initiator tube, engineers finalized their design and started building a primary tube -- about 3 feet long and 2 inches in diameter -- which will be connected to the initiator tube. Using only a small amount of spark energy, a detonation wave can be created in the initiator tube and propagated into the larger primary tube where the main propellants are burned at an extremely high rate.

Like automobile engines, pulse detonation rocket engines operate by injecting fuel and oxidizer into long cylinders and igniting the mixture with a spark plug. The explosive pressure of the detonation pushes the exhaust out the open end of the cylinder, providing thrust to the vehicle. Pulse detonation rocket engine technology development could lead to lightweight, low-cost space transportation systems.

Photo: Pulse Detonation Rocket Engine Technology Summary:

Marshall Center, Jet Propulsion Laboratory host advanced space propulsion workshop NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., are co-sponsoring the 11th Advanced Space Propulsion Research Workshop May 31-June 2. This year's workshop will be held at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Speakers from NASA, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, industry and academia will discuss the latest advanced propulsion research and technology development activity. Topics include space sails, tethers, beamed energy, antimatter, ion drives and solar thermal propulsion.

Workshop Web site:


Note to Editors: The Advanced Space Transportation Media Update is a regular progress report to keep you informed about technology development activity at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. As NASA's Lead Center for Space Transportation Systems Development, Marshall is pushing technologies that will dramatically increase the safety and reliability and reduce the cost of space transportation. Interviews and materials supporting this Media Update are available to media representatives by contacting June Malone of the Marshall Media Relations Department at 256-544-0034. For an electronic version of this release, digital images or more information, visit Marshall's News Center on the Web at:

For more information on Marshall's space transportation activities, visit:

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