Dr. Robert Frederick

Dr. Robert Frederick is the director of UAH’s Propulsion Research Center.

Michael Mercier | UAH

The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) is part of a team that has been awarded a five-year NASA research contract valued at up to $50 million to develop, demonstrate and verify an advanced propulsion system.

The competitive indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract was awarded to Sierra Nevada Corporation's (SNC) wholly-owned subsidiary Orbital Technologies Corporation (ORBITEC) under the Research and Technologies for Aerospace Propulsion Systems 2 (RTAPS2) program for NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

The contract focuses on propulsion system design and trade studies, including liquid engine systems, propellant systems, electric propulsion, rocket-based combined-cycle propulsion systems and advanced propulsion systems.

ORBITEC assembled a team of large and small businesses and academic institutions to assist it in the project. The team will work with OBITEC to provide NASA with advanced space propulsion system technologies, a critical step to enhancing NASA's long-term aerospace research and furthering its exploration goals.

"We are thrilled for the opportunity to work in partnership with NASA in order to demonstrate, and apply, our advanced engine technology to this program," said Tom Crabb, ORBITEC's executive vice president and chief operating officer. "In support of this effort, we've assembled a blended team of organizations to provide technical expertise in each of their respective areas. Our team looks forward to supporting NASA to achieve their research and exploration objectives."

UAH's research contribution will be conducted through the university's Propulsion Research Center (PRC), which focuses principal investigators and student researchers from Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Chemistry, Industrial Engineering and other relevant components of the university into research teams to perform propulsion and energy research and development.

"UAH's membership on this team with ORBITEC strengthens the impact our researchers will have on NASA being able to achieve their exploration goals," PRC Director Dr. Robert Frederick said. "UAH's expertise in advanced space propulsion technologies such as Rocket-Based Combined Cycle modeling and simulation, mass-gauging technologies for liquid rockets and combustion instability research are also expertise that ORBITEC sought when inviting us on their team."

Beginning its 25th year, the PRC has a proven track record of research and advanced technology development in technologies for liquid, solid and hybrid propulsion, as well as advanced propulsion concepts such as electric, solar and nuclear propulsion. It exists to be a major generator of talent and innovative solutions in propulsion and energy related systems. The PRC connects the academic research community with industry and government to advance basic science and technology development.

Experimental capabilities for laboratory-based assessments are operational in solid, liquid, hybrid, fusion and plasma propulsion. Modeling and simulation capabilities include analytic modeling of propellants and energetics, smooth particle hydrodynamics, and computational fluid dynamics of combustion instability and acoustics.

"The UAH Propulsion Research Center assembles expertise from the entire university to address the research and development of new space propulsion technologies," said Dr. Frederick. "UAH offers the ORBITEC team nationally-recognized expertise in testing and evaluation of propulsion systems and components."

PRC customers include NASA, the U.S. Dept. of Defense, the U.S. Dept. of Energy, small business and propulsion companies. UAH is also experienced in working in International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and proprietary environments.

"We are delighted to see UAH teamed with Orbital Technologies as a part of this important contract vehicle and we look forward to the opportunities it presents," said Dr. Ray Vaughn, UAH vice president for research and economic development.