Vert Tackles Final Frontier with New Pump Propulsion System for Lunar Spacecraft


Vert is looking to the stars after a request from the European Space Agency (ESA) to adapt its innovative conical rotary compressor technology (CRC) for use on future lunar landing craft.


The compressor technology company has been commissioned to design, manufacture, validate and deliver a novel, electrically-powered, positive-displacement propellant pump unit, under a programme of, and funded by the European Space Agency. This flavour of Vert’s patented CRC technology will be incorporated into a re-startable, deep-throttling thruster system and will be known as the Conical Rotary Booster (CRB) having moon landing science and exploration vehicle applications.


Consisting of an integrated module comprising a pump unit and electric motor, the CRB’s technical advantages over existing hydrodynamic technologies include easy scalability and controllable variable flow rates for high pressure delivery for low viscosity fluids. It is the ever increasingly strong demand for vehicle mass efficiency, reduced mission costs and higher payloads that helped Vert stand out, as David Noake, Head of Design at Vert, explains.


“Current spacecraft use pre-pressurised systems that cannot effectively utilise all the fuel they carry or require gas re-pressurisation of the fuel storage” explains David. “Namely, this technology employs a gas reservoir to ensure delivery of fuel at sufficiently high pressures for injection into the combustion chamber. In turn, this requires additional high pressure tanks with thick-walls that can incur significant mass penalties and can present significant hazard since the thick tanks do not burn up on re-entry to earth atmosphere.


“Considering added bulk can hamper mission effectiveness, our electrically-driven CRB’s ability to reach the 6kN of thrust ESA’s craft requires made it an attractive option for the agency. If designed appropriately rocket thrusters can achieve higher levels of thrust for the same fuel flow if the delivery the propellants is at a higher pressure. The CRB’s viability with non-toxic RP-1 rocket fuel, and the fact the pump power source can be replenished mid-mission without decaying thrust or incomplete propellant utilisation apparent in existing propulsion systems, further cemented the CRB’s viability.”


This new project follows previous partnerships between the Edinburgh-based firm and ESA to adapt Vert’s existing compressor technology to Technological Readiness Level 4 – a NASA developed definition demonstrating the technology’s validation at all stages of development and use. The first step of this ESA project will involve the development of an earth atmosphere demonstration vehicle, the Ascent and Descent Autonomous Manoeuvrable Platform (ADAMP), in which the CRB will be utilised alongside other novel and emerging technologies being developed for/by ESA.


“Space has always fascinated and captivated not only engineers and other scientific minds, but also the public at large,” says David. “As such, the fact that we are adapting our innovative CRC for use in moon landings is thrilling both to me and the wider Vert team.


“Our pump’s size and its ability to achieve high levels of pressure at the required fuel flow, akin to those achieved via traditional pressure fed systems will be key to propelling ESA’s future lunar craft. After demonstrating proof-of-concept, we are extremely excited to take our work to the next stage with the ADAMP and then be on the road to help a new generation of astronauts reach the stars.”


“It is highly important to us that any electrical pumps used in our vehicles’ propulsion systems be green propellant-compatible and deliver high pressure,” concludes David Perigo, Chemical Propulsion Engineer at ESA.  “Alongside this, this technology needed to allow for a re-ignitable, deep-throttling engine across multiple moon missions. We are delighted that Vert’s CRB solution has met these stringent requirements and look forward to working with the company to develop the ADAMP and future space-faring craft.”