Novel Gel-Infused Additively Manufactured Hybrid Rocket Solid Fuels

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Virginia Tech


In the aerospace propulsion sector safety is an important driver to costs, vehicle design and mission capabilities. Hybrid rockets are considered some of the safest forms of chemical propulsion. That factor alone makes hybrid rocket propulsion systems desirable options. Hybrid systems often benefit from multiple additional advantages over conventional solid and liquid propellant systems, including: minimal environmental impact, higher density impulses, start-stop-restart capabilities, simplistic random throttle control, low development costs, and basic transportation and storage requirements. A major issue that continues to impact the effective use of hybrid systems, is that classical hybrid rocket fuels suffer in low regression rates. If fuel regression rates can be improved upon without diminishing any of the other beneficial factors to a hybrid rocket motor then a far greater market for such systems can be generated. In this work, additively manufactured polypropylene solid fuel grains were infused with gels as a means of significantly altering the fuel burning rates in a lab scale hybrid rocket motor. Gels based on Jet-A were created using both particulate (fumed silica, micro aluminum, nano aluminum) and polymeric (paraffin wax) gellants. The particle structure of the aluminum powders was characterized by means of microscopic imaging, particle size measurement, and thermal mass response analysis. The rheological behavior of the gels was characterized in order to determine the relationship between melt layer viscosity, viscoelastic properties, and combustion performance. High speed color video recording was used on select grains for spatially and temporally resolved three-color camera pyrometry analysis. The process showed promise in determining aluminized gel burn time across an entire rocket firing. The performance of the gel infused grains was compared to a traditional center perforated fuel grain, under similar flows of gaseous oxygen. Rocket motors fired with gel infused grains exhibited pressure increases of greater than 40%. Gel infused fuel grains demonstrated regression rate enhancements up to 90% higher than the baseline. The estimated gel regression rates were over 500% higher than the host polypropylene fuel. When the O/F was maintained near stoichiometric or lean conditions, c∗ efficiencies of the gel infused grains were similar to that of the baseline indicating thorough combustion of the gels. At low oxygen mass flows, the effects of gel infusion are not as significant, which is consistent with the liquefying fuel entrainment concept.



hybrid rocket, regression, additive manufacturing, 3D printing, gel