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Rocket Propellants

a rocket taking off
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You watch the launch of space rockets with fascinating payloads as if they were everyday events: the James Webb Space Telescope, the Tesla Roadster, Chang’e 4.

Yet research on the chemistry of the rocket engines that drive these flights is constantly changing and improving. The Hanson Research Group is an important center for the study of the chemical kinetics that convert these fuels to useful energy. Using shock tubes and laser absorption diagnostics, we are able to fully characterize the life of rocket propellants from pyrolysis through ignition to final combustion products [1].

Our experimental facilities, e.g. the HPST (High-Pressure Shock Tube), can achieve temperatures (up to and beyond 3000 K) and pressures (up to 1000 atm) necessary to duplicate the conditions that can occur in rocket combustion chambers.

Our laser diagnostics and high-speed camera systems can specifically identify and quantitatively measure the reactants, transient radicals, and combustion products that occur in real-time [2,3]. Current research topics include kerosene-based propellants, methane, and hydrogen.

graphs indicating rocket fuel decomposition across time and at different temperatures
Measurements of the decomposition of RP-1, a highly refined form of kerosene used as rocket fuel [2]. (a) RP-1 and ethylene mole fractions (1262 K, 18.4 atm, 0.17% RP-1/Ar). (b) Peak ethylene yields as a function of temperature (18 atm).

To learn more, check out some of our publications: 

[1] R. Xu, K. Wang, S. Banerjee, J. K. Shao, T. Parise, Y. Zhu, S. Wang, A. Movaghar, D. J. Lee, R. Zhao, X. Han, Y. Gao, T. Lu, K. Brezinsky, F. N. Egolfopoulos, D. F. Davidson, R. K. Hanson, C. T. Bowman and H. Wang, “A physics-based approach to modeling real-fuel combustion chemistry – II. Reaction kinetic models of jet and rocket fuels,” Combustion and Flame Vol. 193 (2018) pp. 520–537. DOI: 10.1016/j.combustflame.2018.03.021

[2] M. E. MacDonald, D. F. Davidson, R. K.Hanson, W. J. Pitz, M. Mehl and C. K. Westbrook, “Formulation of an RP-1 pyrolysis surrogate from shock tube measurements of fuel and ethylene time histories,” Fuel Vol. 103 (2013) pp. 1051–1059. DOI: 10.1016/j.fuel.2012.10.008