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Rocket propulsion sees triple success

Three new propulsion systems have been succcessfully tested in Europe and the USA, including a first for UK rocket testing.

University of Bristol engineers conducted four 1s firings of the Static Test Expansion/Deflection Rocket Nozzle (STERN) motor between 19 and 31 March.

These expansion deflection (ED) nozzle motor firings are firsts for UK rocketry, as is the use of hydrogen and air as STERN's propellants. ED nozzles are designed to provide optimal thrust over a wide range of altitudes.

Meanwhile, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) conducted the first simultaneous firing of three of its Merlin 1C kerosene, liquid oxgen engines, which will propel SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, on 8 March at its Texas test facility. The three-engine test lasted for 18s. The next test will use five engines and final tests will involve the Falcon 9's nine-Merlin 1C configuration.

The third successful test was with Italian propulsion company Avio's second-stage 26,000kg (57,200lb) Zefiro 23 solid rocket motor, which will power the European Space Agency's new Vega launcher. The qualification firing lasted for 80s and took place at the test site in Sardinia.

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