Characterizing High-Energy-Density Propellants for Space Propulsion Applications

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Kokan, Timothy Salim
Seitzman, Jerry M.
Olds, John R.
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There exists wide ranging research interest in high-energy-density matter (HEDM) propellants as a potential replacement for existing industry standard fuels for liquid rocket engines. The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, the U.S. Army Research Lab, the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, and the NASA Glenn Research Center each either recently concluded or currently has ongoing programs in the synthesis and development of these potential new propellants. In order to perform conceptual designs using these new propellants, most conceptual rocket engine powerhead design tools (e.g. NPSS, ROCETS, and REDTOP-2) require several thermophysical properties of a given propellant over a wide range of temperature and pressure. These properties include enthalpy, entropy, density, viscosity, and thermal conductivity. Very little thermophysical property data exists for most of these potential new HEDM propellants. Experimental testing of these properties is both expensive and time consuming and is impractical in a conceptual vehicle design environment. A new technique for determining these thermophysical properties of potential new rocket engine propellants is presented. The technique uses a combination of three different computational methods to determine these properties. Quantum mechanics and molecular dynamics are used to model new propellants at a molecular level in order to calculate density, enthalpy, and entropy. Additivity methods are used to calculate the kinematic viscosity and thermal conductivity of new propellants. This new technique is validated via a series of verification experiments of HEDM compounds. Results are provided for two HEDM propellants: quadricyclane and 2-azido-N, N-dimethylethanamine (DMAZ). In each case, the new technique does a better job than the best current computational methods at accurately matching the experimental data of the HEDM compounds of interest. A case study is provided to help quantify the vehicle level impacts of using HEDM propellants. The case study consists of the National Aeronautics and Space Administrations (NASA) Exploration Systems Architecture Study (ESAS) Lunar Surface Access Module (LSAM). The results of this study show that the use of HEDM propellants instead of hypergolic propellants can lower the gross weight of the LSAM and may be an attractive alternative to the current baseline hypergolic propellant choice.
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