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‘Self eating’ rocket engine could revolutionize satellite launches

Researchers in Scotland and Ukraine are working to create a ‘self-eating’ rocket engine that could revolutionize satellite transport.

The launch vehicle would rely on an autophage engine, which uses a propellant rod with solid fuel on the outside and an oxidizer on the inside, producing thrust as vaporized fuel and the oxidizer flow into the combustion chamber.

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It would also generate enough heat to vaporize the next section of the propellant, keeping the system going.

In a major breakthrough for the technology, scientists have built an engine of this kind that can be throttled up and down.

 

The rockets currently used to deliver CubeSats to orbit often must carry so much propellant that the tank outweighs the payload itself. With a so-called self-eating engine, many of these issues would be resolved. Artist’s impression 

According to the team, this could make it much easier – and cheaper – to send small satellites known as CubeSats to orbit.

‘Launch vehicles tend to be large because you need a large amount of propellant to reach space,’ says Dr Patrick Harkness, senior lecturer at the University of Glasgow’s School of Engineering.

‘If you try to scale down, the volume of propellant falls more quickly than the mass of the structure, so there is a limit to how small you can go.

‘You will be left with a vehicle that is smaller, but proportionately, too heavy to reach an orbital speed.’

Researchers in Scotland and Ukraine are working to create a ¿self-eating¿ rocket engine that could revolutionize satellite transport

Researchers in Scotland and Ukraine are working to create a ‘self-eating’ rocket engine that could revolutionize satellite transport

The rockets currently used to deliver CubeSats to orbit often must carry so much propellant that the tank outweighs the payload itself.

Not only does it make for less efficient launches, but it contributes to space debris, the researchers explain.

With a so-called self-eating engine, many of these issues would be resolved.

‘A rocket powered by an autophage engine would be different,’ Harkness explains.

‘The propellant rod itself would make up the body of the rocket, and as the vehicle climbed the engine would work its way up, consuming the body from base to tip.

‘That would mean that the rocket structure would actually be consumed as fuel, so we wouldn’t face the same problems of excessive structural mass.

‘We could size the launch vehicles to match our small satellites, and offer more rapid and more targeted access to space.’

WHAT IS A ‘SELF-EATING’ ENGINE?

An autophage engine, known colloquially as a ‘self-eating’ engine, uses a propellant rod with solid fuel on the outside and an oxidizer on the inside.

This produces thrust as vaporized fuel and the oxidizer flow into the combustion chamber.

That also means it generates enough heat to vaporize the next section of the propellant, keeping the system going.

‘The propellant rod itself would make up the body of the rocket, and as the vehicle climbed the engine would work its way up, consuming the body from base to tip,’ explains Dr Patrick Harkness, senior lecturer at the University of Glasgow’s School of Engineering.

‘That would mean that the rocket structure would actually be consumed as fuel, so we wouldn’t face the same problems of excessive structural mass.’ 

The technology could make it much easier – and cheaper – to send small satellites known as CubeSats to orbit.

So far, the team has managed to sustain rocket operations for 60 seconds at a time in the lab tests.

While it’s still in the early stages, the researchers say they’ve already developed an effective engine testbed, and are now working to further refine the design.

‘The next step,’ according to Harkness, ‘is to secure further funding to investigate how the engine could be incorporated into a launch vehicle.’

 



Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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