- The new technology fine-tunes the amount of hydrogen and oxygen supplied to the engine every second.
- The engine runs on the combination of hydrogen and oxygen.
- The engine includes an annular chamber and the products of the explosion move at a speed five times faster than sound.
Engineers from the University of Central Florida and the Air Force Research Laboratory have created a super rocket engine prototype. Kareem Ahmed, an assistant professor in UCF’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, led the research. The new system uses continuous explosions in the combustion chamber. The fuel does not burn, but explodes.
The new technology fine-tunes the amount of hydrogen and oxygen supplied to the engine every second. Engineers have chosen a mode in which the gases have time to properly mix with each other and form an explosive mixture.
Until this engine, existing rocket engines burned fuel. However, burning fuel leaves the engine at subsonic speed. The explosion wave produces supersonic speed.
The concept of a rotating detonation engine is particularly attractive. The combustion chamber has the shape of a ring. Therefore, if the new portions of fuel are delivered on time and in the right places, the process will become continuous. The detonator for each new explosion will serve as the previous one, and the engine will work without stoppage. It will push the rocket forward much more efficiently than the subsonic jet of a conventional engine. Hence, with the same amount of fuel, the rocket will become more load-carrying.
The new technology was not easy to create since the fuel mixture used was constantly trying to switch from detonation to normal burning. However, US engineers and physicists found the solution. It involves an engine design that runs on a combination of hydrogen and oxygen.
The data presented in the abstract clearly states that it is possible to combine oxygen and hydrogen inside a rotary detonation rocket engine. The abstract is titled “Experimental evidence of H2/O2 propellants powered rotating detonation waves.”
The engine includes an annular chamber and the products of the explosion move at a speed five times faster than sound. Escaping from the nozzle, the jet creates a thrust of almost 900 Newtons.
One newton is the force needed to accelerate one kilogram of mass at the rate of one metre per second squared in the direction of the applied force. It is named after Isaac Newton in recognition of his work on classical mechanics, specifically Newton’s second law of motion.
This is enough to lift a load weighing 198 pounds. The thrust is directly proportional to the amount of fuel in the combustion chamber.
It is expected the engine will be operational by 2024 and an experimental flight should take place shortly after. The engine has a potential to be the most successful rocket engine to date. It is an important step and also very exciting for the future of rockets and space exploration. Especially since NASA released last month a report on their space exploration agenda.