March 1, 2024


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Boffins demonstration of a self-eating rocket engine in Scotland • The Register

Boffins demonstration of a self-eating rocket engine in Scotland • The Register

interview Concept A A rocket eats itself He raises his head again as engineers present their work at the AIAA SciTech Forum.

Autophage engines – where the rocket effectively consumes itself – were first proposed and patented in 1938. However, it took until 2018 before scientists were able to design an engine and launch it in a controlled manner. Nearly five years later, further progress had been made: a more active liquid propellant could be used, and the rocket could be fed into the fuselage without buckling.

The next step will be to produce a flying vehicle, says Krzysztof Bzdek, a graduate researcher at the James Watt School of Engineering. Record It could conduct a suborbital test flight in 2027.

The prototype, called Ouroborous-3, generated 100 newtons of thrust at the MachLab facility at Machrihanish Air Force Base in Scotland. The video below shows the missile in action, and shows the fuselage being consumed as the missile throttles and pulses. The researchers presented their paper to attendees at AIAA SciTech in Orlando, Florida, this week.

It's one thing to change a rocket's mass in flight — rockets get lighter as fuel burns — but dealing with noticeably different geometry if the fuselage is shrinking is quite another.

Although it is still early days, lessons can be learned from current launch vehicles regarding thrust vectoring and reaction control, Bzdek tells us.

“We might also look at spin-stable rockets,” he says.

The top priority is to expand the missile's range and create a flying demonstrator. “Our tests come with… [UK] The space agency will be looking at 1,000 Newtons of thrust, and the test thrust for our flight in 2027 will likely be around 6,000 Newtons.

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“For an orbital launch vehicle capable of delivering a single payload to orbit, we would probably have a thrust of about 20,000 newtons.”

To put that in context, one of the Rutherford engines powering Rocket Lab's electron booster generates about 25,000 newtons of thrust at sea level.

Not that there are plans to get too big. Bzdik says the team doesn't plan to expand too much. Instead, the plan is to use the technology to further miniaturize launch vehicles and overcome propellant and structure challenges with the small size of rockets.

“If you can use some of your structure as a fuel source, it allows you to miniaturize it even further… I don't think we're really trying to encroach on traditional launch vehicles, we're looking more at the small payload type.” “release.”

As satellites continue to shrink, perhaps it's time for an automatic rocket engine. Since the structure of a conventional rocket makes up 5 to 12 percent of its total mass, using a portion of that as fuel would result in a smaller rocket being made, or the potential to carry a larger payload.

The team's autophagy engine will continue to be developed with support from new funding from the UK Space Agency (UKSA) and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). ®