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SwRI receives NASA contract to test propellant delivery system

May 1, 2018 — NASA has selected Southwest Research Institute to test space technology that will enable efficient and reliable liquid propellant delivery for future space missions. The technology is a tapered liquid acquisition device (LAD) developed by SwRI and NASA’s Glenn Research Center.

The tapered LAD is designed to deliver cryogenic liquid propellants to a rocket’s engine from fuel tanks. Fuel can also be transferred between tanks using the tapered LAD. Existing LAD designs with straight channels cannot adequately remove internally generated vapor bubbles in the delivery channel. The SwRI design is a simple modification that tapers the channel. This geometry allows the bubbles to be passively removed through surface tension forces, substantially improving transfer of cryogenic fluids at lower cost.

SwRI will adapt the ground-tested hardware for an experiment that will fly autonomously on the New Shepard suborbital launch vehicle. New Shepard is a launch vehicle of Blue Origin, a privately funded aerospace manufacturer and spaceflight services provider.

“We selected New Shepard because the vehicle can provide approximately three minutes of high-quality microgravity, which is significant when compared to the 25 seconds of microgravity achieved in parabolic flights,” said Kevin Supak, a senior research engineer in SwRI’s Mechanical Engineering Division who will lead the NASA project.

“Once flight testing in microgravity is completed, the device potentially could be tested onboard the International Space Station in extended microgravity and eventually be incorporated into future cryogenic propellant tank designs,” Supak added.

The project is expected to be underway in May, with a launch date onboard New Shepard in early 2019. Blue Origin flights are conducted in West Texas at a site near Van Horn. SwRI researchers will be onsite to oversee experiment preparation and view the vehicle launch.

SwRI has more than 60 years of experience in propellant dynamics research and development for launch vehicles and spacecraft propulsion systems. For more information, visit   

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