"Ablative Material Testing for Low-Pressure, Low-Cost Rocket Engines"

by G. Paul Richter and Timothy D. Smith
NASA Lewis Research Center

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Ablative Material Testing for Low-Pressure, Low-Cost Rocket Engines

by G. Paul Richter and Timothy D. Smith
NASA Lewis Research Center


This exceptional NASA document evaluates new, high-technology materials that enable the construction of low pressure, low cost rocket engines.  These ablative materials permit fabrication of light-weight rocket engine combustion chambers and nozzles.

The increasing demand for reliable, low-cost launches of small satellites to equatorial or polar low-Earth orbit (LEO) has led to a number of design approaches for a low-cost propulsion system to meet this demand.  One approach includes the utilization of relatively inexpensive propellants such as RP-1 (processed kerosene) fuel and liquid oxygen (LOX) in a low chamber pressure, pressure-fed engine, with an uncooled combustionchamber and nozzle. 

The elimination of complex, high-pressure turbopumps, and avoidance of cryogenic fuels such as liquid hydrogen or liquid methane, with insulated storage tanks and transfer lines, simplifies the entire system, thus increasing reliability and lowering costs. 

For simplicity and low cost, this system would utilize an existing off-the-shelf first-stage high thrust engine, and a second-stage, low thrust rocket engine consistent with the above approach. 

Ablative materials are used extensively to provide sacrificial cooling (progressive endothermic decomposition of fiber-reinforced organic material and mass flow of pyrolysis gases away from the heated surface, blocking heat flux to the outer surface) in a number of liquid and solid propellant rocket engine applications. The advantages of ablative cooling include simplicity, reliability, ease of fabrication, and compatibility with deep throttling requirements.

Evaluation of design options, with the goals of simplicity and low cost, has led to incorporating ablative materials to fabricate part of the desired combustion chamber and nozzle.  To design a low-cost, light-weight, uncooled combustion chamber and nozzle, NASA's Lewis Research Center conducted extensive design tests, which are detailed in this unusual book.

Silica cloth-reinforced phenolic resin materials, Fiberite MX-2600, and a number of other new lightweight materials were tested for comparative erosion in a subscale rocket engine combustion chamber. 

Much of this technical data and information was classified as secret until the time of this report.   This fine handbook will provide exceptional information for everyone who designs, builds, tests, or is thinking about building a low-pressure, low-cost, light-weight rocket engine.

This sampling of the superb illustrations are shown at greatly reduced resolution size:


Typical illustration (much smaller than in book)

Very hard to find and now out-of-print, this new limited edition has been republished by the Rocket Science Institute.  It's printed with a high-resolution laser printer (not photocopied) on high-quality, bright-white, 24-pound, acid-free paper for years of reference use.  15 pages, large and easy-to-read 11" x 8-1/2" size.

$14.95

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