Motor Case

The case not only contains the propellant grain, but also serves as a highly loaded pressure vessel. Case design and fabrication technology has progressed to where efficient and reliable motor cases can be produced consistently for any solid rocket application. Most problems arise when established technology is used improperly or from improper design analysis, understating the requirements, or improper material and process control, including the omission of nondestructive tests at critical points in the fabrication process. Case design is usually governed by a combination of motor and vehicle requirements. Besides constituting the structural body of the rocket motor with its nozzle, propellant grain, and so on, the case frequently serves also as the primary structure of the missile or launch vehicle. Thus the optimization of a case design frequently entails trade-offs between case design parameters and vehicle design parameters. Often, case design is influenced by assembly and fabrication requirements.

Table 14-1 lists many of the types of loads and their sources; they must be considered at the beginning of a case design. Only some of them apply to any one rocket motor application. In addition, the environmental conditions peculiar to a specific motor and its usage must be carefully considered. Typically, these conditions include the following: (1) temperature (internal heating, aerodynamic heating, temperature cycling during storage, or thermal stresses and strains); (2) corrosion (moisture/chemical, galvanic, stress corrosion, or hydrogen embrittlement); (3) space conditions: vacuum or radiation.

Three classes of materials have been used: high-strength metals (such as steel, aluminum, or titanium alloys), wound-filament reinforced plastics, and a combination of these in which a metal case has externally wound filaments for extra strength. Table 14-2 gives a comparison of several typical materials. For filament-reinforced materials it gives the data not only for the composite material, but also for several strong filaments and a typical binder. The strength-to-density ratio is higher for composite materials, which means that they have less inert mass. Even though there are some important disadvantages, the filament-wound cases with a plastic binder are usually superior on a vehicle performance basis. Metal cases combined with an external filament-wound reinforcement and spiral-wound metal ribbons glued together with plastic have also been successful.

The shape of the case is usually determined from the grain configuration or from geometric vehicle constraints on length or diameter. The case configurations range from long and thin cylinders (L/D of 10) to spherical or near-

TABLE 14-1. Rocket Motor Case Loads

Origin of Load

Type of Load/Stress

Internal pressure

Tension biaxial, vibration

Axial thrust

Axial, vibration

Motor nozzle

Axial, bending, shear

Thrust vector control actuators

Axial, bending, shear

Thrust termination equipment

Biaxial, bending

Aerodynamic control surfaces or wings

Tension, compression, bending, shear,

mounted to case



Bending, shear

Flight maneuvering

Axial, bending, shear, torsion

Vehicle mass and wind forces on launch

Axial, bending, shear


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