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Thursday, February 29, 2024

What hybrid rocket technologies hit advanced test stages

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Now is undoubtedly an exciting time for rocket science technologies all around the world, especially hybrid-propellant rockets. These rockets are unique in the way that their motors use propellants in two different phases, namely a solid phase followed by either liquid or gas. Hybrid liquid rocket models such as SkyHy and others are ever-increasingly growing in popularity for a number of reasons – they have throttleable thrust, their motors can be easily turned off and they have limited mechanical complexity compared to solid rockets.

Recently the world has seen the development of several different types of rocket propulsion systems, and testing has progressed well into advanced stages. We’ll be talking you through all the latest developments in upgrades, fuel technology and much more.

Fuel and Technology

NASA’s funded laboratory in California known as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is currently developing hybrid motors that will power the motors of Mars Ascent Vehicles – this is all part of their planned Mars sample & return missions. Interestingly, studies have also revealed new designs for such missions, with the lowest-mass options yet. One of the great advantages of liquid rockets is that the fuel volume is a lot lighter, thereby increasing efficiency.

NASA has created a wax-based fuel at their Alabama centre capable of withstanding the highly varied thermal conditions that would be applicable for missions to Mars. The same fuel is currently being hot-fire tested with compounds such as nitrogen tetroxide. It is exciting to hear that not only different aircraft, but different fuels, are being tested at advanced stages.

Purdue and Penn University researchers are currently looking into different fuel additives for hypergolic ignition. This will enable a series of multiple starts for hybrid rocket motors. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Libary are currently planning to use this technology for the next Mars missions, scheduled for 2026. Not only this, but the same library are testing high-density polymethyl methacrylate and polyethelene compounds as part of operations to launch small CubeSat satellites into space. Specifically, researchers are investigating the part that autonomous ignitions and long duration burns play in CubeSat missions.

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NASA has been developing motors in collaboration with Utah State University. They recently gave out a $200,000 grant to both test and develop hybrid rocket technologies, mainly to develop motors for use in small satellite applications. Their new technology is composed of a series of finely spaced voids. As electricity is passed through electrodes, electrical charges accumulated in the voids and oxygen is introduced to help ignite the burning of fuel.

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Global Rocket Technologies

Efforts have not only come from the United States – many countries around the world have been developing their own rocket technologies. In Norway, Raufoss has been streamlining their Flight-Weight Unitary Motor. Advanced tests are underway on the use of hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene and hydrogen peroxide burns. So far, blind tests with both of these compounds have produced fairly stable combustion, with an average thrust force of 30 kilonewtons. A new 9 m long and 800 kg vehicle is also being developed by the company. It will be capable of taking a payload of up to 70kg to an altitude of 100km.

One of The most exciting developments has been the launch of Taiwan’s APPL-9C. The Advanced Rocket Research Centre, based around Chiao Tung University, have developed their very own two-stage rocket system. The first stage of this system is the sugar rocket and the second is a rocket that is powered by Nitrous oxide. The 3 m long rocket, with a 15 cm diameter and 27 kg payload, has interesting consequences for the testing of much larger hybrid rockets.

Singapore has seen the development of many new rising rocket technologies. Gilmour Space Technologies launched their first test rocket flight as part of a new goal to reduce the cost of suborbital and orbital launches. It was a success, ascending 5km from the earth’s surface. Their latest Rasta rocket is powered with 3D printed fuel tech and nitrous oxide.

The Future’s Bright

The future of hybrid rocket tech is bright, especially with all the advantages that such technology has. New models are less likely to explode, they can be more easily controlled and they have fewer handling issues. They are also much easier and safer to store than solid rockets. It’s advantages like these that put them on the map, and with the latest technology moving through advanced testing phases, it’s only soon before we see some incredible applications of this modern technology.

What do you think about the future of hybrid rockets? Do not hesitate to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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