Propulsion Collaboration

AMRDEC, NASA work together on propulsion research.

AMRDEC, NASA work together on propulsion research.

AMRDEC, NASA work together on propulsion research

By Heather R. Smith, AMRDEC Public Affairs

Collaboration between the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center and NASA is almost a no-brainer. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center is just two miles from the Army’s aviation and missile research facilities.

Dr. Jaime Neidert, AMRDEC chief scientist for energetics said the organizations share much more than just proximity.

Several years ago, Neidert recalled a briefing about the kind of propulsion research going on at the NASA center.

“We realized that we in the DoD and in propulsion have a lot of common interests with NASA, although our payloads are different,” Neidert said. “When it comes to propulsion, both energetic components – the oxidizer – as well as the inert components, such as fuels, adhesives and insulators, have a lot of commonalities.”

Both the Army and NASA benefit from shared knowledge and facilities. As the space shuttle program ended in 2011, Neidert said the Army and DoD became the largest users for ammonium perchlorate, the solid oxidizer that is the key ingredient in most solid rocket motors, simply because NASA was using less. NASA’s use of the chemical had dwarfed the DoD’s use during the shuttle program. The Army now uses more, but still at a much lower rate than in past years.

The has led to price increases and concerns about a stable supply of this critical material. There was also increased risk that production of the material could end because of lack of demand. Ammonium perchlorate is produced by only one U.S. supplier.

It was critical that NASA and DoD work together on this, Neidert said.

In 2011, the organizations formed the National Institute for Rocket Propulsion Systems, or NIRPS, with Marshall Associate Director Dale Thomas at the helm and Neidert representing the Army and AMRDEC.

NIPRS is the nation’s integration point for matters pertaining to rocket propulsion systems. Its mission is to help preserve and align government and private rocket propulsion capabilities to meet present and future U.S. commercial, civil and defense space needs, while providing authoritative insight and recommendations to American leadership.

“MSFC is looking to increased collaboration as a strategy to help us do more with less,” Thomas said. “We don’t want to compromise our mission.”

Thomas said in today’s challenging fiscal environment, government agencies are faced with the choice of doing less or find ways to do more with less.

“Toward that end, we established the NIRPS as a collaboration vehicle for propulsion, which is vital to almost everything NASA does,” he said. “One of the first organizations that we approached to join us in the NIRPS was AMRDEC, and to our delight, they engaged from day one.”

Neidert said the dialogue among Marshall, NASA’s Space Launch System, AMRDEC and PEO Missiles and Space was much needed. By working with NASA, he said the Army has increased its capability to produce larger amounts of solid rocket propellant and has also helped to train the next generation of chemists and chemical engineers.

“We’re beginning the fiscal year to put some of out young engineers into the rapid prototyping facility and the additive manufacturing area of NASA,” Neidert said. “We’re going to put engineers in those positions for six months to train and collaborate.”

Neidert said the collaboration will continue because, “It’s absolutely necessary and vital for national defense, but as well as for the mission at NASA.”

For his leadership in the joint effort, Neidert received a 2013 Director’s Commendation Certificate from the Marshall Center.

“Dr. Neidert brough energy, engagement and professionalism to the effort from day one,” Thomas said. “We know collaboration is hard. Invariably it’s easier to do something either by yourself or within your own house, your own company, or within your own agency. To reach out or go outside your team or your boundaries takes calories.”

AMRDEC is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America’s Soldiers.

RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army’s premier provider of materiel readiness — technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment — to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.

NASA partners with AMRDEC.

NASA partners with AMRDEC.