Towards Electrical Control Over Rocket Propellant Combustion

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Virginia Tech


Electrical control over propellant combustion has the opportunity to improve the functionality and performance of various propulsion systems. In solid rocket motors, active burn rate modulation has the potential to enable throttling. In spacecraft propulsion systems, electrolysis of propellants may provide a means to reduce energy requirements and eliminate the need for expensive catalysts. The work presented in this thesis is concerned with fundamental science related to propellant electrolysis and the performance of rocket propulsion systems using electrolytic ignition. Specifically, the present research is concerned with the effect of conductive and energetic additives on the ignition, combustion, and extinction characteristics of lithium perchlorate-based propellants. Particular attention is paid to the relative importance of electrochemistry and ohmic heating during ignition and steady-state combustion as well as the relative influence of pressure and voltage during steady combustion. Research into the development of an electrically initiated propellant and its integration into a rocket motor is presented as well. This work focused primarily on surveying propellants based on ammonium perchlorate, lithium perchlorate, and hydroxylammonium nitrate for use in a small rocket motor. The decomposition processes of propellants based on ionic liquids and gel polymer electrolytes are detailed. Finally, data from motor firings is presented and parameters influencing the motor's performance and consistency are identified for future improvement.



Electrically Controlled Solid Propellants, Combustion, Ignition, Quenching