Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Indonesian Space Sciences & Technology School

Indonesian Space Sciences & Technology School

A rocket engine or simply "rocket" is a jet engine[1] that uses only propellant mass for forming its high speed propulsive jet. Rocket engines are reaction engines and obtain thrust in accordance with Newton's third law. Since they need no external material to form their jet, rocket engines can be used for spacecraft propulsion as well as terrestrial uses, such as missiles. Most rocket engines are internal combustion engines, although non combusting forms also exist.

Rocket engines as a group, have the highest exhaust velocities, are by far the lightest, and are the most energy efficient (at least at very high speed) of all types of jet engines. However, for the thrust they give, due to the high exhaust velocity and relatively low specific energy of rocket propellant, they consume propellant very rapidly.

Types of rocket engines

Physically powered

Type Description Advantages Disadvantages
water rocket Partially filled pressurised carbonated drinks container with tail and nose weighting Very simple to build Altitude typically limited to a few hundred feet or so (world record is 623 meters/2044 feet)
cold gas thruster A non combusting form, used for vernier thrusters Non contaminating exhaust Extremely low performance
hot water rocket Hot water is stored in a tank at high temperature/pressure and turns to steam in nozzle Simple, fairly safe, under 200 seconds Isp Low overall performance due to heavy tank

Chemically powered

Type Description Advantages Disadvantages
Solid rocket Ignitable, self sustaining solid fuel/oxidiser mixture ("grain") with central hole and nozzle Simple, often no moving parts, reasonably good mass fraction, reasonable Isp. A thrust schedule can be designed into the grain. Once lit, extinguishing it is difficult although often possible, cannot be throttled in real time; handling issues from ignitable mixture, lower performance than liquid rockets, if grain cracks it can block nozzle with disastrous results, cracks burn and widen during burn. Refuelling grain harder than simply filling tanks, Lower specific Impulse than Liquid Rockets.
Hybrid rocket Separate oxidiser/fuel, typically oxidiser is liquid and kept in a tank, the other solid with central hole Quite simple, solid fuel is essentially inert without oxidiser, safer; cracks do not escalate, throttleable and easy to switch off. Some oxidisers are monopropellants, can explode in own right; mechanical failure of solid propellant can block nozzle (very rare with rubberised propellant), central hole widens over burn and negatively affects mixture ratio.
Monopropellant rocket Propellant such as Hydrazine, Hydrogen Peroxide or Nitrous Oxide, flows over catalyst and exothermically decomposes and hot gases are emitted through nozzle Simple in concept, throttleable, low temperatures in combustion chamber catalysts can be easily contaminated, monopropellants can detonate if contaminated or provoked, Isp is perhaps 1/3 of best liquids
Liquid Bipropellant rocket Two fluid (typically liquid) propellants are introduced through injectors into combustion chamber and burnt Up to ~99% efficient combustion with excellent mixture control, throttleable, can be used with turbopumps which permits incredibly lightweight tanks, can be safe with extreme care Pumps needed for high performance are expensive to design, huge thermal fluxes across combustion chamber wall can impact reuse, failure modes include major explosions, a lot of plumbing is needed.
Dual mode propulsion rocket Rocket takes off as a bipropellant rocket, then turns to using just one propellant as a monopropellant Simplicity and ease of control Lower performance than bipropellants
Tripropellant rocket Three different propellants (usually hydrogen, hydrocarbon and liquid oxygen) are introduced into a combustion chamber in variable mixture ratios, or multiple engines are used with fixed propellant mixture ratios and throttled or shut down Reduces take-off weight, since hydrogen is lighter; combines good thrust to weight with high average Isp, improves payload for launching from Earth by a sizeable percentage Similar issues to bipropellant, but with more plumbing, more R&D
Air-augmented rocket Essentially a ramjet where intake air is compressed and burnt with the exhaust from a rocket Mach 0 to Mach 4.5+ (can also run exoatmospheric), good efficiency at Mach 2 to 4 Similar efficiency to rockets at low speed or exoatmospheric, inlet difficulties, a relatively undeveloped and unexplored type, cooling difficulties, very noisy, thrust/weight ratio is similar to ramjets.
Turborocket A combined cycle turbojet/rocket where an additional oxidizer such as oxygen is added to the airstream to increase maximum altitude Very close to existing designs, operates in very high altitude, wide range of altitude and airspeed Atmospheric airspeed limited to same range as turbojet engine, carrying oxidizer like LOX can be dangerous. Much heavier than simple rockets.
Precooled jet engine / LACE (combined cycle with rocket) Intake air is chilled to very low temperatures at inlet before passing through a ramjet or turbojet engine. Can be combined with a rocket engine for orbital insertion. Easily tested on ground. High thrust/weight ratios are possible (~14) together with good fuel efficiency over a wide range of airspeeds, mach 0-5.5+; this combination of efficiencies may permit launching to orbit, single stage, or very rapid intercontinental travel. Exists only at the lab prototyping stage. Examples include RB545, SABRE, ATREX

Electrically powered

Type Description Advantages Disadvantages
Resistojet rocket (electric heating) A monopropellant is electrically heated by a filament for extra performance Higher Isp than monopropellant alone, about 40% higher. Uses a lot of power and hence gives typically low thrust
Arcjet rocket (chemical burning aided by electrical discharge) Similar to resistojet in concept but with inert propellant, except an arc is used which allows higher temperatures 1600 seconds Isp Very low thrust and high power, performance is similar to Ion drive.
Pulsed plasma thruster (electric arc heating; emits plasma) Plasma is used to erode a solid propellant High Isp , can be pulsed on and off for attitude control Low energetic efficiency
Variable specific impulse magnetoplasma rocket Microwave heated plasma with magnetic throat/nozzle Variable Isp from 1000 seconds to 10,000 seconds similar thrust/weight ratio with ion drives (worse), thermal issues, as with ion drives very high power requirements for significant thrust, really needs advanced nuclear reactors, never flown, requires low temperatures for superconductors to work

Solar powered

The Solar thermal rocket would make use of solar power to directly heat reaction mass, and therefore does not require an electrical generator as most other forms of solar-powered propulsion do. A solar thermal rocket only has to carry the means of capturing solar energy, such as concentrators and mirrors. The heated propellant is fed through a conventional rocket nozzle to produce thrust. The engine thrust is directly related to the surface area of the solar collector and to the local intensity of the solar radiation and inversely proportional to the Isp.
Type Description Advantages Disadvantages
Solar thermal rocket Propellant is heated by solar collector Simple design. Using hydrogen propellant, 900 seconds of Isp is comparable to Nuclear Thermal rocket, without the problems and complexity of controlling a fission reaction. Using higher–molecular-weight propellants, for example water, lowers performance. Only useful once in space, as thrust is fairly low, but hydrogen is not easily stored in space, otherwise moderate/low Isp if higher–molecular-mass propellants are used

Beam powered

Type Description Advantages Disadvantages
light beam powered rocket Propellant is heated by light beam (often laser) aimed at vehicle from a distance, either directly or indirectly via heat exchanger simple in principle, in principle very high exhaust speeds can be achieved ~1 MW of power per kg of payload is needed to achieve orbit, relatively high accelerations, lasers are blocked by clouds, fog, reflected laser light may be dangerous, pretty much needs hydrogen monopropellant for good performance which needs heavy tankage, some designs are limited to ~600 seconds due to reemission of light since propellant/heat exchanger gets white hot
microwave beam powered rocket Propellant is heated by microwave beam aimed at vehicle from a distance microwaves avoid reemission of energy, so ~900 seconds exhaust speeds might be achieveable ~1 MW of power per kg of payload is needed to achieve orbit, relatively high accelerations, microwaves are absorbed to a degree by rain, reflected microwaves may be dangerous, pretty much needs hydrogen monopropellant for good performance which needs heavy tankage, transmitter diameter is measured in kilometres to achieve a fine enough beam to hit a vehicle at up to 100 km.

Nuclear powered

Nuclear propulsion includes a wide variety of propulsion methods that use some form of nuclear reaction as their primary power source. Various types of nuclear propulsion have been proposed, and some of them tested, for spacecraft applications:
Type Description Advantages Disadvantages
Radioisotope rocket/"Poodle thruster" (radioactive decay energy) Heat from radioactive decay is used to heat hydrogen about 700–800 seconds, almost no moving parts low thrust/weight ratio.
Nuclear thermal rocket (nuclear fission energy) propellant (typ. hydrogen) is passed through a nuclear reactor to heat to high temperature Isp can be high, perhaps 900 seconds or more, above unity thrust/weight ratio with some designs Maximum temperature is limited by materials technology, some radioactive particles can be present in exhaust in some designs, nuclear reactor shielding is heavy, unlikely to be permitted from surface of the Earth, thrust/weight ratio is not high.
Gas core reactor rocket (nuclear fission energy) Nuclear reaction using a gaseous state fission reactor in intimate contact with propellant Very hot propellant, not limited by keeping reactor solid, Isp between 1500 and 3000 seconds but with very high thrust Difficulties in heating propellant without losing fissionables in exhaust, massive thermal issues particularly for nozzle/throat region, exhaust almost inherently highly radioactive. Nuclear lightbulb variants can contain fissionables, but cut Isp in half.
Fission-fragment rocket (nuclear fission energy) Fission products are directly exhausted to give thrust
Theoretical only at this point.
Fission sail (nuclear fission energy) A sail material is coated with fissionable material on one side No moving parts, works in deep space Theoretical only at this point.
Nuclear salt-water rocket (nuclear fission energy) Nuclear salts are held in solution, caused to react at nozzle Very high Isp, very high thrust Thermal issues in nozzle, propellant could be unstable, highly radioactive exhaust. Theoretical only at this point.
Nuclear pulse propulsion (exploding fission/fusion bombs) Shaped nuclear bombs are detonated behind vehicle and blast is caught by a 'pusher plate' Very high Isp, very high thrust/weight ratio, no show stoppers are known for this technology Never been tested, pusher plate may throw off fragments due to shock, minimum size for nuclear bombs is still pretty big, expensive at small scales, nuclear treaty issues, fallout when used below Earth's magnetosphere.
Antimatter catalyzed nuclear pulse propulsion (fission and/or fusion energy) Nuclear pulse propulsion with antimatter assist for smaller bombs Smaller sized vehicle might be possible Containment of antimatter, production of antimatter in macroscopic quantities isn't currently feasible. Theoretical only at this point.
Fusion rocket (nuclear fusion energy) Fusion is used to heat propellant Very high exhaust velocity Largely beyond current state of the art.
Antimatter rocket (annihilation energy) Antimatter annihilation heats propellant Extremely energetic, very high theoretical exhaust velocity Problems with antimatter production and handling; energy losses in neutrinos, gamma rays, muons; thermal issues. Theoretical only at this point

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