Researcher’s at the University of Washington have developed a mathematical model for a new engine type called a rotating detonating engine. This new engine makes rockets more fuel-efficient and lightweight, compared to a normal engine that requires 3.5 million pounds of fuel. Researchers and engineers can use this data to continue understanding and improving these engines.
James Koch, a researcher and UW doctoral student in aeronautics and astronautics, used pattern formations to generate results and eventually develop the highest performing engine. This new development uses a different approach to propellant combustion, allowing propellant to flow between the cylinders gaps and release a shock wave once the rocket is ignited. The shock wave is a strong pulse of gas with much higher pressure and temperature that moves faster than the speed of sound. Although this engine generates a shock wave that requires no additional help from other parts, the combustion-driven shock has a mind of it’s own and can be very violent when detonated.
Currently, this engine is too unpredictable to use on a rocket just yet. The behavior of the pulses need to be reproducible to ensure experimental results are accurate. Koch explained, “I have identified the dominant physics and how they interplay. Now I can take what I’ve done here and make it quantitative. From there we can talk about how to make a better engine.” Hopefully in the near future this development will be ready for use on a NASA Space Shuttle.
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