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Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Student and Chair Receive Funding for Hybrid Rocket Project

Since spaceflight began, two types of rocket technologies have been used almost exclusively:  the liquid and solid rocket engine. Both rocket technologies are still used today – often in the same applications – however, there are fundamental trade-offs between the two designs that much of contemporary rocket science is defined by.

In a liquid-fueled rocket, the stored fuel and oxidizer – a chemical agent, usually oxygen, that facilitates the combustion of the fuel – are pumped into a combustion chamber where they are mixed and burned. This combustion produces the thrust needed to move the rocket. Any malfunction in the pumping mechanism of the rocket can create a massive explosion, destroying the vehicle and damaging the launchpad.

On the other hand, solid-fueled rockets have the fuel and oxidizer already mixed and held together in a polymer binder, like in conventional fireworks. This reduces the rocket’s complexity, but it doesn’t eliminate the dangers.

Recently, engineers have begun designing rockets with hybrid engines, which typically use a solid fuel but a liquid or gas oxidizer, requiring some valves, tanks, and plumbing. Although these components add complexity to the design, they are safer and cleaner than those with conventional solid or liquid-fuel engines. Additionally, hybrid rockets have greater mechanical flexibility because the flow of oxidizer can be controlled, meaning that the thrust can be adjusted or even shut down and restarted during flight.

“Hybrid rocket engines provide many advantages over current solid and liquid systems including throttling capability, good specific impulse as well as lower costs due to increased safety and operational simplicity,” says Victoria Coverstone, professor and chair in the University of Miami College of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE). “However, hybrid rockets are still limited by low fuel regression rates and combustion efficiencies.”

Alec Yenawine, a graduate research assistant in MAE, received funding from the Florida Space Grant Consortium (FSGC) for his work to improve and support the development of hybrid rocket engine technologies.

In collaboration with Coverstone, Yenawine aims to improve the hybrid rocket’s performance by determining optimal fuel port geometries using Additive Manufacturing. Their research project will also provide experimental data to further understand the underlying mechanisms of hybrid fuel combustion.

The project is officially titled, “THESIS RESEARCH: Investigation of Hybrid Rocket Engineer Combustion & Optimal Complex Fuel Port Design.”

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