Ball Aerospace and GenCorp Aerojet have joined forces to bid for NASA's Mars MicroMission programme, expected to begin late this year. If selected, Ball would be prime contractor, while Aerojet would supply the propulsion system.

Managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the MicroMission programme aims to explore Mars by launching small, inexpensive and identical spacecraft over a period of nine years. The Aerojet/Ball team is one of five bidding to supply the first two spacecraft, due for launch in 2003, with the potential to supply all the Mars MicroMission spacecraft required through to 2012.

• Aerojet has successfully tested fuel- and oxidiser-rich preburners as the first step in development of a highly reusable rocket engine for future US Air Force applications.

The key feature, says Aerojet, is that the preburners generate fluids rich in gaseous hydrogen and oxygen to drive the turbopumps of new-generation engines. This is achieved by dividing the work between two turbines to reduce turbine inlet temperature. Using propellant flow as the turbine drive fluid provides cooler drive gases, reducing wear and tear.

Source: Flight International