Case Study:
Nammo: Rocket Plume Intercooler


Nammo Westcott, commissioned by the European Space Agency, is currently constructing and will operate the UK National Space Propulsion Test Facility at Westcott Venture Park, Buckinghamshire, UK. The National Space Propulsion Test Facility will provide world-leading facilities within the UK that will enable rocket engines up to 1.5kN to be tested in high-altitude (near vacuum) conditions, cementing Westcott as the centre of excellence for space propulsion within the UK.

A key enabler of the facility is the rocket plume intercooler (heat exchanger) which will cool the rocket exhaust gases from temperatures of in excess of 2,000°C to less than 50°C.

Rocket plume intercooler

About Nammo Westcott

Nammo Westcott is a major supplier of chemical propulsion systems to key spacecraft manufacturers. Its rocket engines and thrusters serve commercial, defence and science markets. Nammo is involved in the development, production and test activities in rocket engines test services, chemical propulsion subsystems, monopropellant attitude control system thrusters and hypergolic bipropellant apogee engines.

The challenge

Nammo required a heat exchanger / intercooler that would be able to withstand the extreme temperatures generated from the firing of the rockets and to remove that heat from the generated exhaust plume to allow the vacuum pumps to reliably operate and maintain the simulated high altitude conditions. Quenching gas temperatures in excess of 2,000°C was a unique challenge and required a partner with expertise in providing first-class thermal management solutions. Nammo approached numerous companies all over the world but none, other than Reaction Engines, could provide a solution on the scale that they required.

The rocket plume intercooler core

The rocket plume intercooler
outer vacuum vessel (shell)

Creating value

The Applied Technologies team designed a totally bespoke straight rack heat exchange solution consisting of multiple modules using water as the working fluid to cool the rocket plume entering the unit from over 2,000°C to less than 50°C in less than a meter’s distance. The intercooler is currently being assembled ready for delivery later this year. The heat exchanger modules are designed and vacuum brazed to ASME BPVC and ISO EN standards.

This exciting project further demonstrates the adaptability and scalability of Reaction Engines’ technology, underlining our position as market leaders and innovators in the field of thermal management solutions. 

Technical specification

Vessel Diameter: 1.7m
Total Height: 1.8m
Total Length: 4.5 m (inc. diffuser adapter)
2.0 m (ex. diffuser adapter)
Heat exchanger core size: 1m x 1m x 1m
Dry Masses:
Main Vessel:
Diffuser adapter:
Total (dry) mass:
Wet mass:
810 kg
1180 kg
435 kg
2425 kg
+100 kg
Inlet temperature (’shell side’): ~2,300°C
Outlet temperature (’shell side’): < 50°C
Heat Rejection: 1.5 to 2.0 MW
(depending on rocket under test)

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