Propulsion Systems


Engines and Launchers


General References

  • Earth-to-Orbit Transportation Bibliography Latest update of Andrew Nowicki's bibliography.

    Air Breathing Engines

  • LACE
  • SCRAM
  • Nuclear powered aircraft

    Chemical Guns

  • Gun Launch for Orbital Vehicles - Bruce Dunn (January 1995). A discussion of Gerald Bull and his work on the HARP project. This was an attempt to develop launch systems based on the well known and developed technology of chemical explosive based artillery.

    Ion, Plasma, Arcjet

  • JPL Work on Russian Thrusters - JPL Universe (16-Dec-94). Discusses JPL's tests on the Russian SPT-100 and T-100 (Stationary Plasma Thrusters), and a TAL (Thruster with Anode Layer). The article also discusses NASA and Space Power Inc work on Ion engines.

    Laser Launch Systems


  • The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's Special Studies Program (within The Advanced Technology Program (ATP) of O Division) has examined alternative spacecraft propulsion concepts to meet performance or mission objectives. Laser propulsion concepts have been described for several decades. The laser beam is used to heat a propellant with the energetic expansion driving the craft. A series of ATP devised tests were conducted in which a laser beam was directed at a pusher plate with machined paraboloid dimples. Light was focused by each dimple on a spot behind the plate. The focused beam heated air pockets and the expanding pockets imparted a thrust to the plate. This *concept* provides respectable thrust in the atmosphere. In *space* (vacuum) the dimpled plate is jettisoned to expose a block of solid propellant which is ablated by the laser beam to produce thrust.

    Mass Drivers

  • "Coilgun Research Spawns Mighty Motors and More," Machine Design, September 24, 1993, page 24.

    Nuclear Pulse Engines


  • Orion
  • Helios

    Spacetime Drive Concepts

    There are several outstanding ideas. One of the more interesting was Alcubeirre's hyperspace surfing idea.. Unfortuneately this appears to require more energy than exists in the universe, as noted in a New Scientist article, Warp Factor Zero. The article reports on a recent study done by Mitchell Pfenning and Lary Ford of Tuft's University. Alcubeirre replies that the calculations "might" lead to a different result if they included the affects of the warped space in the them. However we don't have a theory of quantum gravity, so no such calculations can be made.

    Dr. Robert Forward has put forth an interesting concept based on the quantum froth at the Planck scale. His idea is to artificially hold and enlarge a Planck scale bridge to macro size. The space time bridge exists then between two nearby gates. One gate is sent by sublight transport to the distant destination while one remains at home. Travel from one gate to the other is essentially instantaneous regardless of distance. There is a very troubling paradox involved: if you return the distant gate (which has travelled in an accelerated frame of reference), you have time travel. Needless to say, this wreaks havoc with standard ideas of Causality. But then... does anyone know how to grab, hold and stretch a quantum tunnel? Perhaps we should take a look at this again in a century or two.


    Fuels and Oxidizers


    HAN oxidizers (Hydroxyl amine nitrate)

    HAN is 95 % miscible in water. HAN and Ammonium Nitrate yields a liquid at room temperatures. The authors claim of [1] claim it is safer to handle than Hydrogen Peroxide.

    Dissolved in H2O2 it is violently unstable, according to Navy testing done several years ago. The performance numbers are no better because the mixture ratio skews in favour of the fuel and hurts overall density [2].

  • (1) "A Helping HAN for Hybrid rockets", Kumar Ramohalli (University of Arizona) and Warren Dowler (JPL), Aerospace America, January 1995.
  • (2) "HAN and H2O2 (Was: Aqueous Oxidizers for Black Horse)", Space Tech Digest, Mitchell Burnside Clapp, 950128, v18no209]

    H2O2 (Hydrogen Peroxide)

  • See the collection of papers on the Black Horse concept for refences to H202 oxidizer usage.

    Engine components


    The 'ASTRID' Pumped-Propulsion Flight Experiment was the first flight demonstration of a pump-fed 'thrust-on-demand' propulsion system designed by the Lawrence Livermore National Lab for the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. The test showcased the operation and performance of TBM interceptor propulsion components and associated systems in free flight. The 'pumped-propulsion' *system* employs miniature reciprocating piston pumps to boost the propellant pressure from the thin-walled tank to near the ideal thruster inlet pressure. This allows a light weight tank to be used without compromising optimum thruster performance. The first *ASTRID flight* on Feb. 4, 1994 featured a spin-stabilized rocket fired from a *launch rail* at sea level.

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