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Five Technologies That Can Disrupt Rocket Propulsion System

Since 1903 when Konstantin Tsiolkovsky proposed the idea of space exploration, and Dr. Robert Goddard made a rocket fly using liquid propellant on March 16, 1926, we’ve witnessed tremendous advances in propellant technology.

Back then in 1926, Dr. Goddard’s rocket climbed 12.5 meters and landed 56 meters away. The flight time was of two and a half second which looks unimpressive but was the inception of modern rocketry. Today, the Falcon-9 can lift 22,800 KG to low Earth orbit which has an altitude between 160km to 2000km.

 The engine is the heart of an airplane, but the pilot is its soul. – Sir Walter Alexander

The quote above by Sir Walter though emphasizes the role of a pilot but also, it does touch the importance of an engine in an aircraft. Relentless efforts have been made by aeronautical engineers to give a strong heart to their rockets since the day Dr. Goddard’s rocket left the ground.

The Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in the cradle forever. From a letter written by Tsiolkovsky, in 1911.

The aeronautical engineers, like every other good engineer, are desirous. They always desire more thrust, better efficiency, and durability than the last engine they developed and not to mention at a lower cost than the last launch.

This desirous nature is the sole reason of breakthroughs in aeronautic. And the recent advancements in the propulsion system, for example, the SLS rocket which is claimed to be the most powerful rocket in history, is one among many examples of how aeronautical engineers have improved the propulsion system of a rocket.

Well, these were the breakthroughs of the past in propulsion systems that are well known to the industry. So, how about exploring the recent breakthroughs that are still clandestine?  Excited? Let’s dive right in then:

5 Disruptive Breakthroughs in Rocket Propulsion System

1.  Green Propellant by Aerojet

  • Aerojet is working on the development of a “green” propellant to replace toxic chemicals used in satellites and space. It has a lower freezing point which uses less electric power to keep tanks colder in space.
  • Aerojet is also working to replace solid propellants, the toxic perchlorates used in rocket engines, for example, and liquid propellants like hydrazine.
  • Aerojet demonstrated its operational AF-M315E green propellant in a paper titled GPIM AF-M315E Propulsion System. It offers better performance than Hydrazine and is 45% more denser which reduces the amount of propellant to carry.
  • The GPIM AF-M315E is way less hazardous than hydrazine as due to its viscosity it’s less prone to leak. Plus, unlike Hydrazine it’s non-toxic.

AF-M315 propulsion system

2.  Breakthroughs to Increase Efficiency of Hall Thruster

Some of the major benefits of a Hall Thruster are that propellant in it, in general Xenon, occupies less space which leaves more space of space cargo and it consumes 100 million times less fuel than a chemical rocket.

Hall Thrusters, however, are susceptible to discharge-channel erosion which can reduce its operational lifetime. NASA has taken below approaches for which it has also filed two patents –US7500350 and US7624566 – to increase the efficiency and operational lifetime of Hall Thruster:

  1. Use of magnetic circuit design that reduces ion impingement.
  2. By replacing eroded discharge channel material through a channel wall replacement mechanism.
  3. By using a propellant distributor which blocks contaminants while maintaining a high degree of flow uniformity.

French researchers at French National Center for Scientific Research have operationally optimized an advanced wall-less Hall Thruster. This can open the door to a highly efficient wall-less Hall Thruster which can be utilized in deep space exploration missions in the future.

hall-thruster

3.  Fuel Cell to Reduce Fuel Consumption

  • Airbus is working on a 90Kw hydrogen fuel cell that can reduce the fuel consumption by 15%. It will power non-propulsive systems that run on electricity – avionics, in-flight entertainment system, etc.
  • The by-product of this unit will be water which will be utilized to meet the drinking water needs in a passenger aircraft. The unit will decrease the dead weight of the aircraft since the propulsion system is likely to replace water storage units inside aircraft.
  • Airbus’ patent US828244B2 also discloses the use of a fuel cell to satisfy water demand of passenger onboard.

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4.  Rotary Turbo Rocket by Dr. John that Combines a Jet Engine with a Rocket

Dr. John Bossard, an aerospace and mechanical engineer at BSRD LLC,  has been working on a Rotary Turbo Rocket (RTR) for quite some time which can be used to develop reusable rockets.  The patent US20150007549  discloses Dr. John’s invention.

The RTR has an excellent thrust-to-weight ratio and it can function as a turbojet and turborocket. The turbojet can allow an air/spacecraft to take off and after take-off, it can switch to turborocket to fly at higher speed or to escape the Earth’s atmosphere.

The success of RTR by Dr. Bossard’s team could lead to a revolution in both air travels where jets will be equipped with rockets and space travel as well.

RTR-TurboRocket-

5.  EM Drive by NASA

NASA has tested an EM Drive which in the vacuum can operate without rocket fuel while defying the law of conservation of momentum.

If scientists at NASA manage to make the drive work with a nuclear power source, intergalactic traveling will see the light of a day. A trip to Mars and back will last only 10 days instead of the current three years.

Analysis Performed By Sukha Singh, Research Analyst, Patent Landscape and Ajay Singh, Senior Researcher, Patent Landscape

Read Next: 5 Recent Disruptive Breakthroughs of Solar Cells

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Showing 6 comments
  • Dbheemeswar
    Reply

    Nice to read

    • GreyB
      Reply

      Thank you for the kind words, D. Bheemeswar.

  • John Bossard
    Reply

    We were most gratified that the RTR was included on your list of five disruptive propulsion technologies, it was a nice surprise. We’ve been working on the RTR as well as the core technology, the turborocket (TR), for a few years now. The more we learn and understand about its operation, the more enthusiastic we get about its potential. And we’re glad you get it, too! Stay tuned for more updates as progress continues! Our promo video is at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Aaxi8Xl7FU
    Fly Awesome!
    -Dr. John Bossard-

    • Nitin Balodi
      Reply

      Hello Dr. Bossard,

      Thanks for stopping by. Dr. John, as we know that an RTR will enhance the T/W ratio of an a/c, in that scenario, what is the performance of BSRD’s RTR if let say it replaces Rolls-Royce’s Trent and Alliance’s GP powerplants in an A380. To what extent the current T/W will get enhanced?

      Do you have any plan to fuse a turborocket with a ramjet? Is it feasible?

      -Nitin

  • john Bossard
    Reply

    Great questions, Nitin. The RTR is a best suited for high speed flight vehicles, that are supersonic and hypersonic. The A380 is a subsonic cruise aircraft, and as such, the Trent, GE90 and other similar turbofan engines are optimal engines for this application.
    The T/W of a RTR depends on which operating mode its in, i.e. turbojet, rocket, or Air Turbo Rocket (ATR), but we believe the turborocket (the rocket mode) should be able to provide T/W well above 50, and probably much higher.
    Integrating the turborocket into a ramjet or scramjet is not only feasible, its a great application. The problem with ramjets and scramjets is that they make no thrust when they aren’t flying. So you always need another propulsion system to get them up and going. By integrating a turborocket into a ramjet or scramjet, you now have this capability, and you get a powerful fuel injector to boot. This will allow you to Fly Awesome!

    • Nitin Balodi
      Reply

      Thanks for your replies, Dr.Bossard!

      -Nitin

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