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lox/methane in-space propulsion systems technology status and gapsHuman exploration architecture studies have identified liquid oxygen (LOX)Methane (LCH4) as a strong candidate for both interplanetary and descent ascent propulsion solutions. Significant research efforts into methane propulsion have been conducted for over 50 years, ranging from fundamental combustion mixing efforts to rocket chamber and system level demonstrations. Over the past 15 years NASA and its partners have built upon these early activities that have demonstrated practical components and sub-systems needed to field future methane space transportation elements. These advanced development efforts have formed a foundation of LOXLCH4 propulsion knowledge that has significantly reduced the development risks of future methane based space transportation elements for human exploration beyond earth orbit. As a bipropellant propulsion system, LOXLCH4 has some favorable characteristics for long life and reusability, which are critical to lunar and Mars missions. Non-toxic, non-corrosive, self-venting, and simple to purge. No extensive decontamination process required as with toxic propellants. High vapor pressure provides for excellent vacuum ignition characteristics. Performance is better than current earth storable propellants for human scale spacecraft. Provides the capability for future Mars exploration missions to use propellants that are produced in-situ on Mars Liquid Methane is thermally similar to O2 as a cryogenic propellant, 90,111 K (LO2, LCH4 respectively) instead of the 23 K of LH2. Allows for common components and thus providing cost savings as compared to liquid hydrogen (LH2). Due to liquid methane having a 6x higher density than hydrogen, it can be stored in much smaller volumes. Cryogenic storage aspect of these propellants needs to be addressed. Passive techniques using shielding and orientations to deep space Refrigeration may be required to maintain both oxygen and methane in liquid forms
Document ID
Document Type
Klem, Mark D.
(NASA Glenn Research Center Cleveland, OH United States)
Date Acquired
June 14, 2017
Publication Date
April 1, 2017
Subject Category
Spacecraft Propulsion and Power
Report/Patent Number
Meeting Information
Southwest Emerging Technology Symposium (SETS) 2017(El Paso, Texas)
Funding Number(s)
WBS: WBS 432938.
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.
Propulsion systems

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